Guest Column | August 10, 2023

4 Key Players Shaping Dallas' Transformation Into an Autonomous Trucking Hub

By Emily Newton, Revolutionized

Autonomous Trucking GettyImages-1193278109

Dallas has gradually become an autonomous trucking hub, due in large part to Interstate 45. It’s wholly located within Texas, potentially reducing some of the red tape tech companies might encounter by planning test journeys across multiple states. It also helps that the Texan lawmakers have worked to ensure companies have few barriers when testing their vehicles on major roads.

Many businesses have planned autonomous truck routes involving Dallas. Here are some worth staying abreast of as this trend continues.

1. Kodiak Robotics

Kodiak Robotics is a California-based company, but it conducts autonomous truck trials in Texas and Oklahoma. Dallas has been a part of its routes since mid-2019. Many journeys still feature that city, but they also frequently span much further.

For example, a 2022 pilot with U.S. Xpress involved Kodiak Robotics’ autonomous trucks going from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to Atlanta, Georgia. The journeys collectively required four round trips and eight commercial loads. The trucks ran 24 hours a day for almost six days.

Four safety drivers rotated to spend equal time in the vehicle’s front seats. In addition to being available in case things go wrong, those people can take over driving on local roads that don’t allow autonomous trucks yet.

Representatives from Kodiak Robotics said this trial was notable because it involved trips that were longer than drivers can legally do in a day but too short to cost-effectively conduct with teams. Moreover, since Dallas and Atlanta are two of the biggest busiest freight centers in the United States, the routes between them created an excellent testing ground.

A more recent agreement is between Kodiak and Forward Air. Once trucks leave the Dallas autonomous trucking hub, they’ll go to Atlanta, traveling 24 hours a day and six days a week. The hope is that the route will alleviate some staffing challenges, although likely not replace independent contractors.

2. Volvo Autonomous Solutions

Decision-makers at Volvo are also curious about using Dallas as an autonomous trucking hub. Their business branch dealing with these vehicles has set up an office in Fort Worth and will plan routes between Dallas, Houston, and El Paso.

However, representatives started by running their trucks with human drivers in them after securing clients such as Uber Freight and DHL. Once the company officially launches its autonomous trucks effort, people will still play an important role.

The autonomous trucks will go to transfer hubs, and humans will resume the journey from there. Carriers send their shipments to Volvo hubs, where autonomous trucks pick up the goods and begin moving toward the destination. Then, human drivers only take shorter journeys, which keeps them closer to home and makes the overall trips more efficient.

Decision-makers are always looking for efficiency-boosting techniques. Route optimization can help them meet their goals, and Volvo is trying a pioneering method.

3. Aurora

Aurora has seven locations in the U.S., including one in Dallas. The company hopes to officially launch its autonomous trucks on the country’s roads in 2024, and a Dallas-to-Houston route is a major part of the ongoing tests to reach that milestone.

These trucks have three types of sensors to identify road hazards and obstacles. Some can detect things up to a quarter-mile away. For example, during a test run, one of the trucks identified another vehicle that was traveling so far under the speed limit that it could become dangerous.

Aurora’s technology can digest information and use it to determine whether to change lanes or maintain a specific distance. It’s those details that help the vehicles move safely to and from the autonomous trucking hub in Dallas.

In April 2023, the company opened a South Dallas commercial terminal that was its first for autonomous trucks. The location features high-speed data offloading capabilities and sensor calibration ranges alongside more traditional amenities, such as fuel and weigh stations. Since an extra 100 pounds can cause a 1% reduction in gas mileage, carrying only the essentials becomes necessary for profitable operations.

4. Gatik

Besides its Californian and Canadian headquarters, Gatik has an autonomous trucking hub in Dallas, along with others in Arkansas and Louisiana.

The company had been using its vehicles to handle Sam’s Club deliveries to dozens of Fort Worth locations. However, thanks to a March 2023 agreement, it’ll scale up operations with Kroger as a new client.

The trucks will move throughout Kroger’s Dallas distribution network, carrying fresh food several times per day. They could also transport other items. Each vehicle has a 20-foot box suitable for cold products.

More specifically, Gatik will use four of its trucks to go to three Kroger locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area at least four times a day. Each trip spans an average of 60 miles. The company will initially operate the trucks with safety drivers on board.

Not A Sure Bet For Every Autonomous Trucking Company

The four companies detailed above are clearly making great strides in Dallas. However, it hasn’t been the same story for other businesses that tried to have similar success. Consider how Waymo recently stopped Dallas trials with J.B. Hunt and Uber Freight. That change is reportedly due to executives’ decision to focus on ride-hailing journeys, which have gained substantial momentum.

TuSimple is another company with Dallas ties. It formerly operated its trucks from San Antonio to Dallas, with DHL as the client. However, it’s now focusing on the Chinese market.

Those changes aren’t likely because of issues with Dallas, though. Numerous real-life tests have proved the city is an excellent place to start or continue the testing of autonomous trucks.

Keep An Eye On This Autonomous Trucking Hub

Trucking professionals and the public are both curious about how autonomous vehicles may reshape the future. Tests such as those mentioned here are essential for increasing people’s trust in these vehicles and showing them that they can complement humans’ efforts to get goods to their destinations.

It’s also positive that the leaders of new autonomous truck companies won’t have to look far when determining the best places to conduct tests. Dallas is a widely cited possibility for numerous compelling reasons. When executives realize it has the characteristics they need to conduct trials with fewer limitations than they might find elsewhere, they see Dallas as a destination well worth considering.

About The Author

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly explores the impact technology has on the industrial sector.