Jan 23, 2024 - News

Driverless 18-wheelers are coming to Houston

Photo of a red truck

Expect to share Houston roads with these later this year. Photo: Courtesy of Kodiak

Houston is set to be a testing ground for 18-wheelers moving freight without a driver in the cab.

Driving the news: Kodiak Robotics will launch its first driverless route between Houston and Dallas in the second half of this year.

  • It unveiled its "driverless-ready semi-truck" at the 2024 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month.
  • Pennsylvania-based Aurora Innovation is also planning to launch driverless trucks in Texas by the end of the year, with Dallas to Houston as the first route.

Why it matters: These companies argue autonomous trucks could address the long-haul driver shortage plaguing the industry while also lowering costs and improving safety.

Details: California-based Kodiak and Florida-based Ryder System Inc. opened a Houston location in December to handle autonomous truck trips.

  • The so-called truckport at an existing Ryder fleet maintenance facility enables Kodiak to launch and land autonomous trucks as well as transfer freight for routes between Houston, Dallas and Oklahoma City.

Be smart: Kodiak currently operates all routes with safety drivers, including those between Houston-Dallas and Houston-Oklahoma City.

The big picture: Texas has become a self-driving testing ground in recent years, thanks to a 2017 law allowing motor vehicles with automated driving systems to operate in the state without a "human operator."

What they're saying: "Kodiak picked Dallas to Houston as the first driverless route because it is a major freight lane, and the region combines generally good weather with favorable regulatory environment for the technology," a Kodiak spokesperson tells Axios.

  • "Nearly half of all truck freight in Texas moves along the I-45 between Dallas and Houston, making this corridor an ideal route for Aurora's commercial launch," Aurora said in a news release last year.

State of play: Autonomous truck developers have tested their rigs with real customers in the Houston area, using backup safety drivers until the technology is ready.

  • Kodiak has a hub south of Dallas in Lancaster and contracts with companies like Ikea, C.R. England and Tyson to move their freight.
  • Aurora, meanwhile, is partnering with auto supplier Continental to create what it says will be the world's first scalable autonomous trucking system.
  • It will roll out the first phase of driverless trucks later this year and expand the technology to thousands of trucks by 2027.

How it works: Kodiak trucks have sensors that conduct roughly 1,000 checks on the surrounding environment every 100 milliseconds to identify and adjust to the behavior of other drivers, according to the company.

  • Command centers in Lancaster and Mountain View, California, keep an eye on the trucks and can take over the driving functions remotely if needed.

Worthy of your time: Our Dallas colleague Naheed's test ride with a Kodiak truck.

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