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Kodiak Robotics pursues autonomous trucks

Posted: August 8, 2018 by John G. Smith

Kodiak Robotics has been founded by Otto co-founder Don Burnette and former venture capitalist Paz Eshel.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Uber may have shelved plans to develop an autonomous long-haul truck, but Kodiak Robotics has emerged with $40 million in financing to pursue the dream.

Founded by Otto co-founder Don Burnette and former venture capitalist Paz Eshel, it is dedicated to developing “autonomous technology for long-haul trucking”. Itzik Parnafes, a partner in the global investment firm Battery Ventures, will join the board.

Kodiak Robotics says in three months the founders have assembled a team of engineers with “experience in actually shipping self-driving vehicles on public roads.”

Uber acquired Otto in 2016, but recently announced that it will stop developing self-driving trucks and instead focus on self-driving cars.

That truck-focused initiative gained notoriety when it delivered a trailer loaded with Budweiser beer 190 km down a Colorado highway. But it also became tangled in a lawsuit with Waymo, a company that had been spun off from Google’s autonomous car research, around claims of patent infringement and stealing trade secrets – particularly those that involved the use of LiDAR. A settlement reached in February banned Uber from incorporating Waymo secrets in hardware and software, and also gave Waymo 0.34% in Uber equity.

Uber’s autonomous vehicle plans took a further hit in March when one of its test vehicles – a car – was involved in a fatal collision in Tempe, Ariz. Before the tests were temporarily halted, Uber had been testing the tech on public roads in Toronto, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and the Arizona community.

Kodiak, however, still sees a promising business venture with trucks.

“We believe self-driving trucks will likely be the first autonomous vehicles to support a viable business model, and we are proud to have the support of such high-profile investors to help us execute our plan,” Burnette said. Investors include Battery Ventures, CRV, Lightspeed Ventures, and Tusk Ventures.

“Autonomous driving is likely one of the most major technology shifts of the last 100 years,” said Parnafes.

Burnette was one of the Google engineers involved in developing a self-driving car , while Eschel’s recent role as vice-president at Battery Ventures involved the firm’s autonomous-vehicle investment project.

Identifying the need for the technology, the company cited the American Trucking Association’s estimate that the U.S. was short 51,000 drivers last year, up from a shortage of 36,000 in 2016.

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