Pilot, Kodiak Robotics open first autonomous truckport

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Pilot Flying J station in VIlla Rica, Georgia
The truckport located in Villa Rica, Georgia, will serve as a transfer hub between autonomous and manual first- and last-mile deliveries. It will also be used to conduct maintenance, refueling and enhanced inspections specifically for autonomous trucks.

Pilot Flying J and autonomous trucking tech company Kodiak Robotics have opened their first truckport at the Pilot Travel Center in Villa Rica, Georgia. The facility, located roughly 30 miles west of Atlanta, will be used by Kodiak to launch and land autonomous trucks and will serve as a hub for drivers to pick up and drop off first- and last-mile deliveries.

The truckport is a permanent facility on the Pilot Travel Center property. Kodiak Robotics Founder and CEO Don Burnette told CCJ his company collaborated with Pilot Company to take advantage of its existing footprint, which eliminated the need to build substantial new infrastructure to support Kodiak’s operations "and ultimately allowed Kodiak to integrate into the real trucking world. Further, Kodiak’s technology is capable of accessing unstructured environments, so there was no need to change facility layout in order to accommodate stringent requirements for the autonomous trucks. Kodiak’s trucks can leverage a wide variety of existing trucking infrastructure, from Pilot locations to carrier depots. This flexibility is a key factor in Kodiak’s ability to scale its technology."

The Villa Rica truckport supports Kodiak’s 18,000-mile-long autonomous deployment network – a set of mapped routes for self-driving trucks. 

“Partnering with Pilot Company to build the Villa Rica truckport ensures that we have access to the truckport services we need, utilizing Pilot’s industry-leading travel center network,” said Burnette. Those services include refueling at the Pilot Travel Center, light maintenance and pre-trip inspections and Enhanced Inspections specifically designed for self-driving trucks. 

Enhanced Inspections, having already undergone a pilot in Texas, require that a CVSA-certified inspector, who has completed a 40-hour CVSA training course and passed a corresponding exam, conduct a thorough inspection of an autonomous truck combination, which is valid for a 24-hour period. Autonomous trucks then communicate the outcome of that inspection, as well as other relevant safety information, to roadside enforcement officers. Since law enforcement will have a high level of certainty about the roadworthiness of vehicles participating in the Enhanced Inspection program, autonomous trucks which follow the approved process will not be subject to routine inspections at weigh stations and other inspection sites. Kodiak inputs the results of each Enhanced Inspection into the Drivewyze system, which then communicates a sample Safety Data Message Set to roadside enforcement officials in Texas at participating inspection sites.

Burnette said Kodiak plans on enrolling Villa Rica-based technicians in upcoming Enhanced Inspections training programs as they occur.

“This partnership, combined with Kodiak’s flexible technology stack, enables our scalable, asset-light approach to building our truckport network," Burnette added. "The freight lane between Dallas and Atlanta is critical to the nation’s supply chain and economy, and this truckport enables us to refine our operations model as we continue to grow.”

The new truckport will serve as an eastern satellite hub for Kodiak’s network, while the company’s Dallas-Fort Worth hub will continue to serve as the main terminal for its autonomous truck fleet. It also serves as a model for future Kodiak truckports, which are designed to be highly scalable due to lean infrastructure requirements. Burnette said the company currently operates three round-trips per week between Dallas and Atlanta, "but we plan on scaling up the Dallas to Atlanta lane significantly over the next couple of years."

Pilot Company Director of Strategy and Business Development Brandon Trama said his company is continuously evaluating ways to enhance its travel centers to support the self-driving industry. Indeed, Pilot Company announced last August it had made a strategic investment in Kodiak and joined its Board of Directors. The two companies are exploring further expansion within Pilot’s national travel center network. 

“Pilot Company rigorously tests ways to integrate new technologies, including autonomous trucks, to maintain our safety-first focus and continue fueling the trucking industry,” Trama said. “Working with Kodiak aligns with our emphasis on improving the quality of life for professional drivers. Autonomous trucks focus on the long, repeatable highway miles, leaving the more enticing local, first- and last-mile deliveries for professional drivers who can stay closer to home.”

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at jasoncannon@randallreilly.com.