The use of autonomous commercial trucks is growing and with that is the question of what happens if something aboard the vehicle malfunctions and there’s no human on board to intervene. Tech startup Kodiak Robotics Inc. has been working on it and, for the first time, is revealing its solution called “Fallback.”
Essentially, Fallback technology detects any issues and takes the truck out of action. It works in conjunction with the Kodiak Driver autonomy system.
“The AV system understands the health of its system, its computer, its data, the integrity of that data and the underlying truck platform, much the same way you or I may understand the health of our car as we’re driving down the road,” explained Kodiak founder and CEO Don Burnette in an interview. “There’s over 1,000 metrics the car is constantly monitoring many times per second. If anything becomes abnormal, if there’s any diagnostic that triggers then the Fallback kicks in and is safely able to bring the truck to a safe stop on the side of the road then that system can ask for help remotely from our remote operations.”
How does Fallback figure out where it’s safe to pull over?
Burnette says the combination of Lidar, radar and cameras analyzes the roadway 10 times a second then “We know where is closest place to pull over. We know how the truck should actually execute that maneuver and that plan gets sent down to what we call ACE, Actuation Control Engine. That’s our embedded automotive grade fail operational computer. That plan is then stored 10 times a second so if anything upstream were to fail the ACE takes over and executes that maneuver and pulls the truck over safely.”
Burnette emphasizes there’s a safety driver aboard all of Kodiak’s trucks and that Fallback is just that, fallback technology, as an extra measure of safety.
The company began using Fallback last year on all of the truck in its fleet as a means of real-world testing is now talking about it after being satisfied with its performance, Burnette said. He expressed confidence that perhaps within a few years, Fallback will make it possible to do away with safety drivers.
Founded in 2018 Mountain View, Calif-based Kodiak builds and operates a fleet of autonomous commercial trucks delivering freight between the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area to an expanding list of points in the southwest and south.
Benefiting from fundraising rounds that brought in $165 million Kodiak has been adding employees, trucks and routes. Since announcing $125 million in Series B funding last November the company has added 60 employees bringing its headcount up to 14 and its autonomous fleet up to 22 from about 10.
Once limited to freight deliveries to Houston and San Antonio, in March Kodiak signed a deal with CEVA Logistics to add Austin, Texas and Oklahoma City to its service area making the company “the first AV company to go to Oklahoma,” noted Burnette.
That particular arrangement led to a unique demonstration of the Kodiak autonomous truck’s capabilities.
“Did a whole five-and-a-half day demo with them,” said Burnette. “Had one truck running back and forth almost continuously. We were able to double the utilization of that truck compared with a manually driven truck.” He expects regular commercial operations on that route later this year.
Now that testing is complete for Kodiak’s technology for taking malfunctioning trucks off the road autonomously, Burnette is feeling good about its success, declaring, “the entire system has come together where it really meets the safety bar. We feel confident this system is going to handle the safety of the vehicle at all times.”
If one of its trucks is on the road, it will be so equipped. For Kodiak Robotics, that’s more that a simple fall back plan.