Otto founder launches Kodiak with $40m after Uber ditched self-driving trucks

One of the founders of Otto, the self-driving truck startup bought and shuttered by Uber, is back with a new startup called Kodiak.

August 8, 2018

A week after Uber closed its self-driving truck division (called Otto pre-acquisition), the company’s founder debuted a new company, Kodiak Robotics.

Launched in stealth 3 months ago, Kodiak has already raised $40m. And, with autonomous truck veteran Don Burnette at the helm, the company hopes to drive themselves straight to the forefront of the $719B US freight industry.

Don Burnette just keeps on truckin’

After 5 years on Google’s self-driving car team, Don Burnette co-founded Otto with Anthony Levandowski (now infamous for lifting trade secrets from Google’s Waymo) in January 2016.

Uber acquired Otto less than a year later and assigned Burnette to the car team. But Burnette, who believes self-driving trucks were more important than cars, left last March “to focus 100% of [his] time on trucking.”

In freight’s future, no one knows who’s in the driver’s seat

Less than 2 years after spending more than $600m on Otto, Uber chose to shut down the company to focus instead on Uber Freight, which aims to disrupt the freight industry with humans at the wheel.

But, since 70% of American freight is still shipped in trucks and the shortage of truck drivers continues to worsen (a 36k shortage in 2016 increased to 51k last year), plenty of entrepreneurs besides Burnette are still focused on driverless trucking solutions.

Tesla is still moving forward with the development of its autonomous Semi and startup Embark is picking up speed thanks to a $30m Series B from Sequoia, but Kodiak’s combination of cash and experience make it a frontrunner in the driverless truck race.

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