Autonomous trucks need to lighten the load when it comes to mapping, while still perceiving their surrounding environments reliably.
That’s the approach Kodiak Robotics, a Silicon Valley-based self-driving truck startup, is taking to deploy safer and more efficient delivery and logistics. Today, the company unveiled its fourth-generation vehicle — powered by NVIDIA DRIVE Orin — that uses lightweight mapping and a discreet, modular hardware design to achieve level 4 self-driving capabilities.
By avoiding an over-reliance high-definition maps and focusing on a flexible architecture, Kodiak aims to deploy self-driving systems that are always accurate as well as straightforward to install and modify.
“The way you manufacture and maintain a system is incredibly important for the trucking industry, fleets must be able to stay up and running,” said Don Burnette, co-founder and CEO of Kodiak.
This easy adaptability is crucial for an industry experiencing the dual pressures of high demand for delivery and a low supply of drivers.
E-commerce orders increased nearly 60 percent year-over-year in 2020, according to last-mile technology vendor Convey Inc., with 36 percent of shoppers opting for same-day delivery. At the same time, the trucking industry is experiencing a 92 percent turnover rate — the amount of workers joining or leaving the field in a given year — and the American Trucking Associations estimates it will be short 160,000 drivers by 2028.
This confluence of factors requires an easy solution for trucking companies to adopt while maintaining road safety.
Maps are critical to autonomous driving, helping self-driving vehicles locate themselves in space and plan routes.
Rather than rely on pre-constructed HD maps, which may not be updated in real time to reflect road changes such as construction or new traffic patterns, Kodiak vehicles perceive their environment live while using maps primarily for navigation.
This lightweight mapping strategy requires the vehicle to detect all road objects, signs and more. Such real-time perception requires high-performance, centralized AI compute architected to meet the highest safety standards.
NVIDIA DRIVE Orin achieves over 250 TOPS and is designed to handle the many applications and deep neural networks that run simultaneously in autonomous vehicles, while achieving systematic safety standards such as ISO 26262 ASIL-D.
NVIDIA DRIVE Orin provides the Kodiak Driver with the data and computing power it needs to reliably make and implement decisions — safely and securely.
“NVIDIA DRIVE makes it possible to centralize the vehicle’s compute, helping provide a safe and stable path to full autonomy,” Burnette said.
It’s What’s Not on the Outside That Counts
In keeping with the company’s focus on safety, Kodiak’s autonomous trucks aren’t designed to turn heads.
The fourth-generation trucks feature a modular and discreet sensor suite in just three locations: a slim “center pod” on the front roofline of the truck, and pods integrated into both of the side mirrors. This low-profile sensor placement simplifies installation and maintenance, while increasing safety.
“When you see these trucks, you’re going to ignore them,” Burnette said.
By building this discreet system with the open and scalable NVIDIA DRIVE platform at its core, Kodiak can continue to focus on flexibility and live perception without sacrificing safety and security.