Bridgestone Americas has taken a minority stake in Kodiak Robotics, a leading US-based self-driving trucking company. The partnership will allow Bridgestone to integrate its smart-sensing tire technologies and fleet solutions into Kodiak’s Level 4 autonomous trucks. The companies will also pilot future autonomous and smart tire technologies to further enhance vehicle intelligence and advance toward a safer, more efficient, and more sustainable mobility future.
“Automated vehicles offer a number of benefits to commercial fleet customers and society, including safer roads with fewer unexpected incidents, and upwards of 20 percent savings in fuel and efficiency,” said Paolo Ferrari, global chief solutions officer, Bridgestone Corporation, and President & CEO, Bridgestone Americas.
“Advancements in tire-centric technologies are critical to unlocking greater innovation in mobility, while also delivering significant sustainability benefits. This investment will enable Bridgestone and Kodiak to work together to co-develop advanced mobility solutions with speed and precision that will revolutionize commercial trucking.”
Kodiak moves freight autonomously for its customers using its fleet of Level 4 self-driving long-haul trucks in the state of Texas with a safety driver on board. With plans to deploy driverless trucks in the next few years, full vehicle intelligence is a major key to unlocking safe, efficient and sustainable autonomy for Kodiak and its customers.
Bridgestone’s suite of cloud-based technologies leverage connected vehicle data to help predict tire health and maintenance, as well as optimize tire lifespan. Additionally, Bridgestone’s vehicle platform technologies provide tire intelligence to vehicle safety and autonomous systems to tune their performance and drive safer outcomes. Together, Kodiak and Bridgestone will be able to link vehicle-based and smart-sensing tire technologies to improve vehicle safety, fleet efficiency, and the next generation of autonomous trucking solutions.
“After an extensive diligence process, Bridgestone has chosen Kodiak as an autonomous trucking partner,” said Don Burnette (pictured), co-founder and CEO, Kodiak Robotics. “Bridgestone’s investment is a huge moment for Kodiak and a great validation of our industry-leading autonomous system. As part of our partnership, we are pleased to welcome Bridgestone’s chief technology officer and group president, Solutions Businesses, Nizar Trigui, to our board of directors as an observer. Kodiak and Bridgestone will work together to advance self-driving trucking technology, from tires and sensors to predictive maintenance.”
Tire data to improve safety
Speaking exclusively to Autonomous Vehicle International*, Burnette explained how the partnership is set to benefit both companies: “Bridgestone’s tire monitoring systems can measure loads and forces on the wheels, allowing us to measure weight distribution across tires and axles,” he said. “Weight distribution is important for vehicle dynamics – it can directly affect the way a truck will drive. We can now automatically detect this using their technology.”
Meanwhile Bridgestone will be able to track even more precisely how its products wear and perform over time: “What the autonomy system offers a company like Bridgestone is the ability to get real-time high-fidelity driving data – how the truck is being driven, how many times the steering wheel is turned, the brakes applied and the forces involved,” continued Burnette. “This level of fidelity is something that’s never been possible before with manually driven fleets. It will enable us to develop new tire wear prediction models and improve our understanding about how tires degrade over time, and what can be done to improve the lifetime and longevity of the tires. Better monitoring will enable us to understand when a tire is starting to get close to the end of its lifetime, so you can do preventative maintenance. We can actually replace the tires ahead of time. One of the goals for an autonomous system is to minimise the risk of a tire failure, to increase safety. If we can minimise the likelihood of a tire issue occurring, that’s a way for us to maximise the safety of our overall system.”
Burnette added that the ultimate goal is to feed the live tire data into the autonomous driving software stack in real time: “This would allow us to make decisions about how we drive in order to maximise safety, tire longevity and tire health. Tires are a major expense in the trucking industry. These models are not only going to improve safety for autonomous driving, but we think that they can improve safety and longevity and reduce cost for the overall freight economy. And that’s good for everyone.”
Kodiak Robotics was founded in 2018 and claims to have developed the industry’s most advanced technology stack purpose-built specifically for long-haul trucks. Kodiak delivers freight daily for its customers between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, operating autonomously on the highway portion of the route. In January 2021, Kodiak became the first company in the autonomous trucking industry to announce disengage-free customer deliveries, and released footage of over 1,000 miles of disengage-free driving.
*This story was first published on the 16 June, and was subsequently updated with more information about the specific benefits of the partnership, on 29 June, 2021.