By John Rosevear, CNBC
Self-driving truck startup Kodiak Robotics said that it has begun a pilot program with IKEA in Texas.
A semitruck equipped with Kodiak’s autonomous driving system is making daily delivery runs from an IKEA warehouse near Houston to a store close to Dallas, roughly 300 miles away.
The trucks have human safety drivers on board, but they’re being driven by Kodiak’s autonomous-driving system.
Kodiak’s CEO, Don Burnette, said that he isn’t looking to put truck drivers out of business – in fact, he’s aiming to make their lives easier.
“Adopting autonomous trucking technology can improve drivers’ quality of life by focusing on the local driving jobs most prefer to do,” Burnette said. “Together [with IKEA] we can enhance safety, improve working conditions for drivers, and create a more sustainable freight transportation system.”
This isn’t Kodiak’s first self-driving rodeo. The company has been running freight in Texas with its autonomous test trucks since 2019, and recently opened a new route between Dallas and Oklahoma City. Kodiak has also conducted pilot tests with logistics giants Werner Enterprises and U.S. Xpress, running self-driving trucks on routes from Dallas to Lake City, Florida, and Atlanta, respectively.
Texas has become a hotbed for self-driving truck testing, in part because of favorable regulations — and also because the long highway stretches between its cities are ideal for automation. Waymo, the Alphabet subsidiary that grew out of the Google Self-Driving Car Project, has been testing a fleet of self-driving Freightliner semitrucks (with human safety drivers) on a route between Dallas and Houston for several months.
Self-driving truck startup Aurora Innovation has also been testing trucks in Texas. Aurora began a Texas pilot with Werner Enterprises in April, running on a 600-mile stretch between Fort Worth and El Paso. Another startup, TuSimple, has been testing its self-driving semitrucks in Arizona and is planning to expand to Texas next year.