RIP Amazon Scout

Bloomberg reports the demise of Amazon Scout, the delightfully-shaped last-mile sidewalk delivery robot.

Amazon spokesperson Alisa Carroll said the Scout team was being disbanded and would be offered new jobs in the organization. About 400 people were working on the project globally, according to the person, who requested anonymity to discuss a private matter. A skeleton crew will continue to consider the idea of an autonomous robot, but the current iteration isn’t working.

400 people is a pretty huge project – well beyond Amazon’s famous “two pizza” rule. That also raises the question of how big the remaining “skeleton crew” will be.

Bloomberg puts this news in the context of a broader Amazon initiative to reign in far-flung experiments, in light of slower growth in its core business. Amazon is winding down its health care service, among other ventures.

No news on whether Amazon Prime Air drone delivery might be next for cutbacks.

Cruise Expands Quickly

I love a good Oliver Cameron tweet in my timeline 😊

In another tweet, Kyle Vogt shared:

I can attest that there was no talk of expanding to Austin when I was at Cruise four months ago.

They’re moving fast over there, and it’s fun to see!

Pilot Flying J Partners With Kodiak

Pilot Flying J, which operates Pilot, Flying J, and Mr. Fuel truck centers, just announced an investment in Kodiak!

As a strategic investor, Pilot Flying J bring a lot of benefits. In addition to financial backing, the company will join Kodiak’s board of directors. We’ll also open an autonomous truckport near Atlanta, Georgia, to progress toward Kodiak’s goal of automating the “middle mile.”

Middle mile automation means hauling loads autonomously over the long distances between the “first mile” and the “last mile”. These points, at either end of a journey, involve complex urban driving, at which human truck drivers excel. The middle mile involves more routine long-distance highway driving.

The Kodiak partnership with Pilot Flying J demonstrates how well this model can serve human drivers, who are the backbone of Pilot Flying J’s customer base. Human truck drivers often have to spend long periods of time away from their families while hauling freight over that middle mile, from coast to coast. Drivers frequently sleeping in the back of their truck cabs, while their families are back home, in another state.

An autonomous middle mile would increase overall freight traffic, meaning even more local jobs for humans driving the first and last mile. Instead of having to haul freight coast-to-coast, spending days or weeks on the road, drivers could haul loads in the home area and spend every night with their families.

To bring this vision to fruition, Kodiak and Pilot Flying J will work together to efficiently hand off loads between Kodiak’s autonomous trucks and human-driven trucks covering the first and last mile.

That’s what makes this partnership, and what it could turn into, so exciting.

Coast To Coast

Kodiak just announced its longest delivery run to-date: 5,600 miles from Texas to California to Florida and back to Texas. The route was part of the kick-off of a partnership with 10 Roads, a freight carrier for high-priority USPS parcels.

One of Kodiak’s advantages is a lightweight process for building highway maps, that allows Kodiak to map highways for autonomous driving after a single human-driven run. That scalability enabled us to quickly prepare the entire round-trip, coast-to-coast route.

Kodiak CEO Don Burnette shared with TechCrunch that “the autonomous system was engaged over 90% of the time.”

One my current projects at Kodiak is helping to bring that engagement rate even higher, especially with respect to construction zones. If that sounds exciting, you should join us!

Send me an email 😊

Don Burnette On Kodiak

Last week, TechCrunch+ (paywall) interviewed Kodiak CEO Don Burnette. Months ago, when I was deciding whether to I join Kodiak, I spent an hour and a half on the phone with Don. We went over a lot of the same questions that wound up in this interview. Perhaps I was good practice 🙂

If you have a TechCrunch+ membership, then the whole thing is worth a read. If not, here are some of the choice quotes.

“…in the fall of last year, we were only doing the Texas triangle between Dallas, Houston
and San Antonio. Since then, we have expanded our network tremendously across the
broader southern United States, for example from Dallas to Atlanta.”

“Our truck fleet is now up to 24 from 11 last year.”

“We’re targeting scaling this [the driver-as-a-service model] in 2025.”

“Last month, we demonstrated how easy it is to replace one of our sensor pods in the field by a non-AV trained technician…We think that’s a unique offering that other folks are not paying attention to, and I think you’re going to see a shift toward our designs and technologies in the next couple of years.”

Hello Kodiak!

I joined Kodiak to work on self-driving trucks!

I’m so excited to be here 😊 🚛 Last week was my start, and I’m already riding along in the truck and kicking off projects on new and exciting problems.

Kodiak has quietly been building an impressive operation tackling middle mile freight transportation, one of the biggest and most conducive markets for autonomy.

My team covers planning, controls, and simulation, and they’ve been building impressively!

I’m enjoying observing the similarities and differences between self-driving trucks and self-driving cars. At a high level, the planning, controls, and simulation tasks are quite similar across industries, but the details create distinctions.

For example, Kodiak trucks operate primarily on controlled-access highways, which makes lane boundaries more salient and reduces some of the complexity inherent in urban driving.

On the other hand, Kodiak trucks travel at highway speeds, much faster than self-driving cars in urban environments. This changes the time and distance horizons for the entire autonomy stack – perception, prediction, planning, and controls.

I’ll write more about the work here in the coming weeks. In the meantime, Kodiak has a great blog with insights about our latest projects.

Lastly, Kodiak is hiring like crazy! We should hire you! Work on self-driving trucks with me.

Send me an email right now to d.silver@kodiak.ai with “Work At Kodiak” in the subject line. I will find a job for you!

Thank You And Farewell, Cruise!

Last Friday was my final day at Cruise. I will miss it!

I joined Cruise in March, 2021, as part of the acquisition of Voyage. In 14 months at Cruise, I learned so much and saw so much growth. It was a really special time.

Most of all, the performance of Cruise AVs astounds me. I drove rode in fully driverless Cruise AVs half-a-dozen times since the beginning of the year, across huge swaths of San Francisco. They drive so, so well. And the experience of having the car entirely to myself, without having to worry about driving, is amazing.

My team at Cruise is terrific, and they are hiring! I can’t recommend them enough. Jason is a great manager.

I am so grateful for everything and everyone I had the privilege of working with over the past year. Truly a world-class engineering team.