Kodiak Robotics
Us Xpress Kodiak Av Tractor Trailer

U.S. Xpress explores how Kodiak AVs can fit into its fleet

April 8, 2022
The giant carrier and trucking robotics company created the first autonomous freight route to Atlanta as they explore the right-sized AV routes so humans can focus on hauls closer to home.

U.S. Xpress, one of the largest for-hire carriers in North America, sees future autonomous freight networks improving drivers’ working conditions. As self-driving tractors begin to handle longer hauls, human drivers can be free to focus on regional routes that keep them closer to home.

U.S. Xpress is partnering with Kodiak Robotics to create autonomous freight service between Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta. The self-driving technology company said its route is the first autonomous commercial trucking lane on the East Coast. The two companies announced the deal on April 7.

Dustin Koehl, SVP of operations at U.S. Xpress, told FleetOwner that the pact is part of his fleet’s “mission to make goods move better every day.” U.S. Xpress, which is No. 18 on FleetOwner's Top 500 For-Hire Fleets of 2022, is the first “cornerstone truckload partner” in Kodiak’s Partner Develop Program, which the AI company is using to help advance its self-driving technology.

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“Specific to AV, we have strategic partnerships with a few leading developers so that we can quickly integrate and scale these trucks and associated technology into our fleet once it has been fully tested,” Koehl added. “Autonomous trucking is not a matter of if, but when. We believe self-driving trucks will be running specific routes—or lanes—in the U.S. within the next two to four years.”

6,350 miles in six days

A Kodiak truck pulling U.S. Xpress trailers successfully hauled freight on four round-trips—eight segments— during pilot tests in March. The roughly 6,350 miles of Level 4 autonomous driving (with safety operators onboard) delivered eight commercial loads between Dallas and Atlanta. Kodiak reported on April 7 that its truck “ran 24 hours a day for 131 total hours, or nearly five-and-a-half full days.” 

Koehl said the pilot showed the potential benefits autonomous technology can bring to the trucking industry. “This technology can enable two to three times the utilization of what we see in OTR and teams products today,” he added.

A Kodiak autonomous tractor picked up and delivered U.S. Xpress pre-loaded trailers. A rotating team of four professional Kodiak safety drivers oversaw the autonomous system. Compared to a traditional truck and professional driver with hours-of-service limits, the pilot results led to more than twice as much utilization. By increasing the number of driving hours per day to more than 20, autonomous trucks would allow carriers to haul more freight with less equipment, which Kodiak said would increase fleet revenue. 

“We believe it is the farthest east any company has delivered multiple loads using autonomous technology,” said Don Burnette, Kodiak's founder and CEO. “Having the capacity to sustain 24/7 operations across the more than 750 miles between Dallas and Atlanta—two of our nation’s busiest freight hubs—represents a giant step forward for Kodiak and for the AV trucking industry as a whole.”

The Dallas-Atlanta route is slightly longer than what a professional driver can make in one day because of federal hours regulations—but too short to make a driving team economical. Kodiak said it was the first Level 4 autonomous freight delivery between Dallas and Atlanta. In early March, the robotics company said it was the first to make AV freight hauls into Oklahoma.

How fleets can benefit from autonomous freight

“With Kodiak, we will continue to test and explore the Dallas-to-Atlanta lane, as well as other optimal lanes for AV Trucks in our network.,” Koehl said.

“Level 4 autonomy still has hurdles to clear before it is widely available in the trucking industry,” Koehl later said. “There will be drivers in the cab of any AV trucks operating in the U.S. Xpress network for the near term. When fully autonomous, AV trucks are initially a capacity increase to our fleet that will help with the driver shortage.”

Kodiak said this pilot with U.S. Xpress is just the beginning of the two companies’ partnership. They plan to explore new AV lanes, particularly those that drivers find less desirable, so drivers in the future can focus more on routes that work for them. 

“Autonomous trucks will service longer-haul lanes, allowing human professional drivers to focus on routes that keep them closer to home and provide more regular schedules,” Koehl explained. “We see self-driving trucks positively impacting the human truck driver’s career. Further in the future, drivers may focus more on local deliveries as we expect AV trucks initially to operate on Interstates only.”

U.S. Xpress, in recent years, has shown a proclivity to try out emerging trucking technologies. In 2019, it launched Variant, a technology-first truckload business that uses AI to manage driver’s routes. The primary U.S. Xpress fleet services some of the nation’s largest shippers. Xpress Technologies, the company’s brokerage, offers capacity for shippers and carriers.

“We chose to make U.S. Xpress a cornerstone partner in our Partner Deployment Program because we see U.S. Xpress and its Variant division as ideal long-term partners for the deployment and scaling of our autonomous long-haul solution,” Burnette said.

U.S. Xpress is using the partnership to explore integrating AV tools into its transportation management systems. “When fully autonomous, we will implement the capabilities necessary to manage the AV capacity within the fleet as well as tools to address specific AV operational needs,” Koehl said.

About the Author

Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017, covering everything from modern fleet management to operational efficiency, artificial intelligence, autonomous trucking, regulations, and emerging transportation technology. He is based in Maryland. 

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