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BMW iVentures Invests in Silicon Valley-based Self-Driving Truck Startup Kodiak Robotics

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【Summary】BMW iVentures, the Silicon Valley-based venture capital arm of automaker BMW that invests in promising mobility startups, announced today an investment in Kodiak Robotics, Inc., a developer of self-driving technology for long-haul trucks.

Eric Walz    Jun 24, 2021 12:30 PM PT
BMW iVentures Invests in Silicon Valley-based Self-Driving Truck Startup Kodiak Robotics
Kodiak Robotics is a developer of autonomous truck technology for long-haul freight delivery.

BMW iVentures, the venture capital arm of German automaker BMW that invests in promising mobility startups, announced today an investment in Kodiak Robotics, Inc., a developer of self-driving technology for long-haul trucks. 

The funds from the BMW i Ventures investment help Kodiak expand its team and fleet, as well as continue to develop its purpose-built self-driving technology for long-haul freight delivery.

Kodiak, which is based in Silicon Valley, is one of several high-profile companies including TuSimple, Embark and Waymo, that is developing technology for trucks to operate autonomously on highways. Kodiak, a startup founded just three years ago, aims to make the freight industry safer and more efficient with its autonomous truck technology.

Kodiak is led by a team of autonomous driving engineers from Google's original self-driving team, Uber ATG and Lyft. Kodiak's co-founder and CEO Don Brunette also co-founded the autonomous trucking company Otto, which was acquired by Uber in 2016 for $680 million.

"We are thrilled to partner with BMW i Ventures to accelerate the commercialization of Kodiak's autonomous trucking technology," said Burnette. "BMW i Ventures is one of the leading investors in automotive technology and will be a perfect strategic partner for Kodiak."

Kodiak developed an entire hardware and software stack for trucks called the "Kodiak Driver" to support autonomous highway driving. Each layer is responsible for a different component of the self-driving task.

The lidars, radars and cameras found on Kodiak trucks are powerful and create an understanding of what's happening around the truck at all times. 

Instead of relying on the HD maps commonly used in the industry, the Kodiak Driver uses a unique lightweight mapping approach that's more manageable. The maps contain just enough information about the highway for autonomous driving. These lightweight maps are easier to build and maintain according to Kodiak. They are also small enough that Kodiak can push updates to the entire fleet over-the-air. 

The system includes innovative mapping technology which allows Kodiak to update route changes, such as areas of road construction, without having to stop and reroute.

The Kodiak Driver also incorporates numerous autonomous trucking-specific innovations, such as the ability to merge onto highways and pass slower traffic. 

Kodiak is currently testing its self-driving trucks in Texas and California. The company is delivering freight daily for customers between Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and Houston, operating autonomously on the highway sections of the route with a trained safety driver onboard to monitor the trip and intervene if necessary. However, taking over control from the system doesn't happen too often, according to Kodiak.  

Over the course of a week in January, Kodiak successfully completed a series of back-to-back round trips between DFW and Houston traveling a distance of over 800 miles with zero disengagements of the self-driving system.

"The Kodiak Driver is one of the most advanced technology stacks in autonomous trucking, and has made tremendous strides towards driverless deployment," said Kasper Sage, partner, BMW i Ventures. "Industry observers believe self-driving trucks will be one of the first commercially-viable applications of autonomous technology and we look forward to working with Kodiak in the coming years to put self-driving trucks on the road."

BMW iVentures is headquartered in Silicon Valley and has invested in many other promising companies working on advanced mobility and related technologies. The firm's portfolio includes May Mobility, Nauto, GenXComm, Solid Power, DSP Concepts and EV charging operator ChargePoint and many others.

Last week, Kodiak announced that Bridgestone acquired a stake in the company. The investment amount was not disclosed. As part of the investment, Kodiak will test Bridgestone's smart tire technology and collect data from the tires, including load, pressure and temperature.

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