Driverless trucks moving freight on Houston, OKC route

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International logistics company Maersk has started shipping freight via driverless trucks between Houston and Oklahoma City.

The trucks, currently operating with human drivers as monitors in cabs, have been running 24 hours per day, four days per week. The autonomous semi-trucks move between a Houston facility, where consumer products are loaded onto 53-foot trailers, to a distribution center in Oklahoma City.

The operations mark an expansion of a collaboration between Maersk and Kodiak Robotics, a 5-year-old company based in Mountain View, California, that develops autonomous technology specifically for long-haul truck operations.

Erez Agmoni, Maersk’s global head of innovation, said use of autonomous trucks will yield both financial and safety benefits.

“Autonomous trucks will play an instrumental role in digitizing the supply chain,” he said. “We expect self-driving trucks to ultimately become a competitive advantage for Maersk as we execute on our strategy to provide customers with a sustainable, end-to-end logistics solution across air, land and sea.”

In a joint news release, the companies said that every Kodiak autonomous truck traveling between Houston and Oklaoma City is equipped with numerous sensors, including cameras, radar, and light detection and ranging equipment, that provide for 360-degree monitoring around the vehicle. Additionally, every tenth of a second, the truck evaluates the performance of more than 1,000 safety-critical processes and components in both the self-driving platform and underlying truck platform.

The companies asserted that moving freight over the road by autonomous trucks will prove to be preferrable over time by reducing chances of accidents caused by driver error. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that 94% of crashes occur due to human error, they noted.

Autonomous trucking also has potential to address long-term challenges faced by the trucking industry. According to the American Trucking Association, the industry faces a shortage of roughly 78,000 drivers, and based on trends and projected growth in freight traffic, the shortage could swell to more than 160,000 over the next decade.

Agmoni said Maersk and Kodiak will continue to explore avenues for collaboration across the North American logistics network. Their partnership deepens their expertise in integrating autonomous technology into supply chain operations.

Maersk is a global influence on the logistics industry. The company employs an estimated 110,000 people worldwide and operates in more than 130 countries.

“Teaming with Kodiak enables Maersk to stay at the forefront of innovative solutions,” Agmoni said.

Kodiak founder and CEO Don Burnette said the company has focused on developing and improving technology intended to be easy to integrate into logistics networks.

“Hauling commercial freight gives us the opportunity to work together to integrate Kodiak’s autonomous trucking solution into Maersk’s operations,” he said. “As the first autonomous trucking company to establish this new commercial lane between Houston and Oklahoma City, we are demonstrating our team’s ability to introduce new lanes and bring new efficiencies to the entire logistics industry.”

Kodiak delivers freight daily for other customers as well. It also is involved in testing and deploying autonomous capabilities for the U.S. Department of Defense.

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