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US Army robotic truck idea

Kodiak awarded DOD contract to develop autonomous Army vehicles

Dec. 6, 2022
The two-year Defense Innovation Unit contract calls for trucking technology company Kodiak to help the U.S. Army automate future ground vehicles for high-risk missions such as reconnaissance and surveillance near or behind enemy lines.

Autonomous trucking technology company Kodiak Robotics has been awarded a $49.9 million, two-year U.S. Department of Defense contract to help automate future U.S. Army ground vehicles in the U.S. Army's Robotic Combat Vehicle program. This effort will be in support of vehicles designed for reconnaissance, surveillance, and other high-risk missions.

Through this award, which started in October and was awarded by the Defense Department’s Defense Innovation Unit on behalf of the Army’s RCV program, Kodiak would use its commercial self-driving software to develop, test and deploy autonomous capabilities for driverless vehicles to strengthen national security, the company announced on Dec. 6.

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Under the contract, Kodiak would develop autonomous vehicle technology for the Army to navigate complex terrain, diverse operational conditions, and GPS-challenged environments while also providing the Army the ability to operate vehicles remotely.

“There has been a revolution in the techniques and capabilities of uncrewed ground vehicles occurring in the private sector over the past two decades,” according to Dr. Kevin O’Brien, technical director for DIU’s Autonomy Portfolio. “We’re eager to bring these matured technologies back into the Department of Defense, where initial work was inspired by the DARPA Grand Challenges.” 

Kodiak Robotics and Applied Intuition were the two vendors selected by a Defense Department panel that received 33 responses to the DIU’s Ground Vehicle Autonomous Pathways solicitation. The DOD panel’s subject matter experts facilitated a rigorous and competitive Commercial Solutions Opening, according to the government.

How Kodiak autonomous technology would help U.S. Army

“I started Kodiak because I believe autonomous technology can save lives, and helping the U.S. Army develop driverless vehicles for the most challenging operating environments fits perfectly with that goal,” said Don Burnette, founder and CEO of Kodiak Robotics.

Deploying autonomous vehicles to perform critical and dangerous tasks near or behind enemy lines has the potential to significantly reduce the risk to troops while giving them greater access to the information they need in the field, Kodiak leaders noted this week. The remote driving capabilities Kodiak would develop for the Army would increase the flexibility of these autonomous vehicles, the robotics company said. The project would also provide a technical pipeline and development and deployment of new autonomous vehicle technologies as they become commercially available.

“We are proud to have the opportunity to leverage our cutting-edge self-driving technology for defense applications, and believe our work with DIU and the U.S. Army will both help strengthen national security and hasten our path to commercial deployment,” Burnette said. “We owe a debt of gratitude to the servicemen and women who step into harm’s way to keep us safe; keeping them safe in return is an honor we take seriously.” 

Applied Intuition, the other company awarded a contract with the DOD’s program, is an autonomous and advanced driver assistance systems company with a focus on self-driving passenger car systems and some commercial vehicle technology. 

Kodiak Robotics has been focused on self-driving commercial vehicle solutions within the long-haul trucking space for years. Lately, Kodiak has developed ways to detect and handle Class 8 tire blowouts by self-driving trucks on the highway, ways for humanless trucks to be serviced at truck stops, and unveiled new ways to simplify AV truck maintenance. It is currently hauling freight for various fleets operating in the Southern U.S.

“The DIU CSO process brought new vendors, with significant development and testing experience, to raise the floor on autonomy in the DOD,” said Lieutenant Colonel Chris Orlowski, the product manager for the U.S. Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle program. “The commercial sector has invested heavily in this technology, and we are excited to see this in action by leveraging the self-driving technology that is working on American highways today..” 

In the first 12 months of the 24-month contract with the DOD, Kodiak said would build upon its core competency by applying its autonomous software stack for Army-specific use cases, including future Army vehicles. The next year, the AV company would implement its autonomous driving system on off-road vehicles capable of traversing complex terrain and operating remotely in unpredictable and austere conditions. 

DIU focuses exclusively on adopting and scaling technologies developed by commercial partners to help strengthen U.S. national security by solving critical field challenges faced by the U.S. military. DIU works to identify innovations in six key technology areas where the commercial sector is operating at the leading edge: artificial intelligence, autonomy, cyber, energy, human systems, and space.

While Kodiak Robotics will continue to focus on its core business of building autonomous trucks for use in commercial applications, the company cited this project as an important extension of its work. This project shows that Kodiak’s core technology has multiple use cases, laying the groundwork for future expansion beyond long-haul trucking, Burnette 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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