Autonomous vehicle startup Kodiak Robotics and trucking company U.S. Xpress have started the first commercial autonomous trucking lane to the East Coast, the companies announced April 7.
The new freight service connects Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta. It employs Kodiak trucks capable of Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Level 4 autonomy—that is, able to act without any human intervention in the vast majority of situations.
To launch the new partnership, a Kodiak autonomous truck and completed a pilot drive that hauled pre-loaded U.S. Xpress trailers in four round trips totaling roughly 6,350 miles, delivering eight commercial loads between Dallas and Atlanta in late March. These were the first-ever autonomous freight deliveries between those cities. (A rotating team of four safety drivers oversaw the autonomous drive.)
During the pilot, the truck ran 24 hours a day for a total of 131 hours, or nearly five-and-a-half full days. This represents a more than 100% increase in utilization compared to traditional trucks with professional drivers, who have 11 hours of service limit. By increasing the number of hours a truck can be used per day to more than 20 hours, autonomous trucks will allow carriers to haul more freight with fewer trucks, increasing revenue while decreasing costs.
“This pilot demonstrated to our operations teams and our customers the benefits that can come with autonomous technology,” Eric Fuller, president and CEO of U.S. Xpress, said in a statement. “We fundamentally believe that Kodiak’s autonomous technology will allow us to scale our fleet while increasing truck utilization compared to a human-driven truck. Our strategic partnership is helping both of our teams identify ways to quickly integrate and scale autonomous technology into our fleet once it is commercially available.”
The companies noted the route between Dallas and Atlanta is a perfect entry point for continuous autonomous operations because it is slightly longer than what a driver is permitted to operate in a day but is too short to economically run as a team.
“Our partnership with U.S. Xpress marks our service expansion to the East Coast,” Don Burnette, founder and CEO of Kodiak, said in a statement. “We believe it is the furthest east any company has delivered multiple loads using autonomous technology. Having the capacity to sustain 24-7 operations across the more than 750 miles between Dallas and Atlanta — two of our nation’s busiest freight hubs — represents a giant step forward for Kodiak, and for the AV trucking industry as a whole.”
Founded in 2018, Kodiak carried its first commercial load in 2019. In addition to Dallas to Atlanta, Kodiak has been delivering freight daily on the 240-mile lane from Dallas to Houston since mid-2019, and on the 280-mile lane between Dallas and San Antonio since mid-2021. The company also recently launched commercial operations between Dallas and Oklahoma City in February 2022.