New Autonomous Military Prototype AV: Kodiak Upfits Ford F-150 Pickup


Kodiak Robotics, a leading autonomous vehicle (AV) technology company, has recently unveiled its latest project in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). The startup has upfitted a Ford F-150 pickup truck with its advanced software and sensor stack, creating an autonomous test vehicle for military use.

Key Takeaway

Kodiak Robotics has transformed a Ford F-150 pickup truck into an autonomous test vehicle for the U.S. Department of Defense. The vehicle will be used to conduct autonomous surveillance and reconnaissance missions in challenging off-road terrain and GPS-challenged environments. By developing a modular and swappable SensorPod system, Kodiak aims to create a versatile software and sensor stack that can be integrated into various vehicle types, facilitating dual-use applications.

Testing Autonomy in Challenging Conditions

The DOD plans to employ the Kodiak-equipped vehicle for testing autonomous surveillance and reconnaissance missions across various off-road terrains, diverse operational conditions, and GPS-challenged environments. With the aim of advancing autonomous military applications, they awarded Kodiak a $50 million two-year contract in December 2022. As part of the agreement, Kodiak has an additional year to build and deliver two off-road-capable vehicles based on the F-150.

Kodiak’s CEO and co-founder, Don Burnette, expressed his vision for the future, stating, “Ultimately, the battlefield of tomorrow is going to be autonomous. We want to get men and women out of harm’s way. And this is the technology that’s going to take us into the future of contested environments.”

From Commercializing Trucks to Military Partnerships

While Kodiak primarily focuses on commercializing self-driving trucks, partnering with the military offers an expedited path to revenue for many advanced mobility companies. The Army has been actively pursuing projects dedicated to autonomous driving, and the Air Force has forged collaborations with electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) companies.

Under the DOD partnership, Kodiak is primarily responsible for providing the software and sensor suite. The company will collaborate with hardware providers to integrate the Kodiak Driver onto a next-gen, purpose-built, ground reconnaissance vehicle. The specific design of this vehicle has not yet been finalized.

Choosing the F-150: The Perfect Fit

Kodiak and the DOD initially considered an All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV)-style vehicle for the project, but found them to be too small and underpowered for the intended use cases. Instead, the Ford F-150 was chosen as it aligns more closely with the Army’s long-term vision and requirements.

The modular and swappable SensorPods developed by Kodiak, originally used on their Class-8 trucks, also play a crucial role in this project. The company has adapted these pods for defense applications, creating the DefensePod. These pods can be easily interchanged in the field within 10 minutes or less by a technician without specialized training. Kodiak boasts that it took less than six months to install the Kodiak Driver in a new vehicle.

“We developed our autonomous driving system in a way that is conducive and broadly applicable to other environments outside of over-the-road highways,” said Burnette. “We think that’s a strategic advantage. And we want to take advantage of the fact that our system works in these dual-use environments.”

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