Driverless vehicles have been on the brink of a full-scale launch for so long that it's starting to feel like they may never happen. Just as companies like Cruise got the go-ahead to operate 24/7 without drivers on public roads, catastrophes both minor and major resulted in their robotaxis being parked. It's understandable, then, if you're skeptical about driverless semi-trucks hitting our nation's interstates in 2024, but Kodiak Robotics insists that its autonomous big rig tech is ready to be let loose.
Kodiak made its big announcement at the 2024 Consumer Electronics Show on Tuesday, displaying what it says is the first driverless semi-truck ready for scaled deployment. This comes less than a week after a Bloomberg report detailed Kodiak's plans of hitting the highway with no safety driver present this year. The firm plans to do this alongside fellow automated driving companies Aurora Innovations and Gatik AI.
It's a big leap, to be sure, but Kodiak claims to have answers for the most frequently asked questions, starting with: How will self-driving semi-trucks be safer than those doomed robotaxis? First, these companies claim that their intended operating environment is far simpler than Cruise's in San Francisco and Austin. Because road closures, pedestrians, and emergency vehicles aren't as common on interstates as they are on busy city streets, Kodiak believes its trucks will fare much better. Additionally, each system has redundancy built-in should any line of defense fail.
Redundancy is a big talking point for Kodiak. It isn't enough that its automated semis have 12 cameras analyzing their surroundings; they also have six radar units and four LiDAR units along with microphones to pick up emergency vehicle sirens. Then, there's redundancy baked into the steering and braking systems as well with multiple actuators that Kodiak claims ensure control even if one falters. And finally, if all these systems go down, Kodiak's trucks have a fairly simple protocol—they pull over.
The truck unveiled on Tuesday features Kodiak's sixth-generation technology suite. It supposedly packs a host of improvements over the last iteration, including higher-resolution LiDAR, increased range detection from the side-mounted radar, and computer processing speeds that are faster than the first iteration. These are the upgrades that have Kodiak feeling confident in the trucks' ability to launch at scale.
I'm just as skeptical as the next guy when it comes to self-driving big rigs. It's great to know that Kodiak is factoring in fail safes like this, but there's no getting around the fact that these trucks will be weighed down to 80,000 pounds, potentially with no one behind the wheel, traveling at highway speeds. It's fair to voice these concerns, and ultimately, they're coming from drivers everywhere as well as road safety advocacy groups. In other words, there's no shortage of opposition; now it's up to Kodiak to prove its product can stand up against it in the real world.
Got a tip or question for the author? Contact them directly: firstname.lastname@example.org