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Dual-Use Tech Accelerates Military Autonomy Deployment

Kodiak truck wrapped in camo driving down a dirt road

Driving National Security with dual-use technology

As the defense technology landscape continues to evolve, military operations demand agility and innovation at the speed of relevance. In order to keep pace with technology development, the Department of Defense (DoD) is increasingly looking to commercial tech companies to help adapt cutting-edge technology for defense purposes. The trend towards dual-use technology development, with similar technologies designed for both commercial and defense applications, can bring several advantages to the government:

Cost-effectiveness: Dual-use technology enables the government to leverage existing commercial innovations and investment, reducing the need for costly, from-scratch military development.

Technological Advancement and Rapid Deployment: While the DoD has long been a major driver of technological innovation, commercial technology companies increasingly drive development ahead of what the military has access to. Cutting-edge developments in the commercial market can be adapted and applied to enhance military capabilities. Applying commercial applications to government programs takes the idea out of the lab and puts solutions into the field significantly faster.

Speed of Relevance: Given rapid U.S. advancements in consumer autonomy, reorienting programs toward integrating commercial technologies into the defense acquisition pipeline gives the DoD a significant advantage. This acquisition model allows the DoD to reap the benefits of continuous product improvements while derisking its technology investments and ensuring solutions are being developed as they are needed.

As proof of the potential for non-traditional defense companies to quickly and inexpensively enhance national security, since our contract was awarded last October, we have driven over 500,000 autonomous commercial miles. All the learning from those AV miles is used to improve the performance of our system that we will deliver to the DoD. This pace of learning and product improvement is a significant benefit for the DoD.

Built to adapt

Since our founding in 2018, we’ve developed our autonomous technology, the Kodiak Driver, with a focus on trucking but with an eye toward other autonomous applications. This adaptability comes from foundational decisions made from day one.

  1. Streamlined and discreet sensor and compute integration into the driving platform. Kodiak’s unique, modular SensorPods and onboard compute make the Kodiak Driver easily portable across vehicle platforms. Today, our SensorPods mount to the existing mirror mount points of Class 8 semi-trucks and, with minimal adaptation, can be ported to any other vehicle. Our SensorPods can be rapidly swapped out, ensuring that vehicles can be easily maintained, maximizing operational availability for military platforms.
  2. Use maps like a sensor, not a requirement for localization. Traditionally, autonomous technology systems leverage extremely detailed, dense, and hard-to-update high-definition maps and rely on those maps for ground truth. The Kodiak Driver uses maps as an input, not the final source of truth for localization. As the Kodiak Driver drives, it trusts its eyes, not its memory, just like a human drives, using perceivable cues to place itself without being solely reliant on maps. This means that a Kodiak Driver-equipped military vehicle can drive based on satellite images alone without requiring a servicemember to drive a dangerous route to collect map data.

Highway to off-road driving in two weeks

Adapting an autonomous vehicle to new operating domains has taken companies years. With our unique hardware and approach to mapping, our path to off-road driving was much more efficient. 

For our first off-road run, we drove manually to map the roads. One week after initiating off-road activities, the Kodiak Driver was driving off-road in simulation. It required a few adaptations to our localizer, teaching the Kodiak Driver what to recognize as lane lines in an off-road environment. After testing in simulation and confirming we were localizing and perceiving objects correctly, we went for our first autonomous run.

On our second off-road autonomous run, we navigated narrow bridges, avoided overhanging trees, and handled rapid changes in conditions due to transitions between gravel, dirt, and blinding dust.

A couple of months later, we extended our off-road capabilities by driving in autonomy at night. Facing the same rugged and narrow roads, with no clear lane lines and little to no visibility, the Kodiak Driver navigated the twisting and undulating off-road course as if it were daytime.

Autonomous benefits for everyone

Bringing Kodiak autonomous technology to military applications will protect our troops and improve national security. But there are additional advantages. Operating in harsh off-road environments stresses the capabilities and durability of our system. In these situations, our hardware must be able to handle extreme vibrations from driving on uneven ground and inconsistent surfaces, as well as operate in low visibility situations that include dust and debris, making localization much more difficult. By driving in these off-road environments, the Kodiak Driver is better prepared for less challenging but still difficult ever-changing highway driving, benefiting our commercial partners, who will soon be adding our technology to their fleets.

As we march towards a future filled with disruptive technological advancements, the synergy between commercial and military technology becomes increasingly important. By bringing the Kodiak Driver to military applications, we’re showing how dual-use technology can transform military programs, enabling our armed forces to be more efficient, cost-effective, operationally superior, and safe. By embracing such adaptable autonomous solutions, the military takes a step closer to a safer and more advanced tomorrow.

We’re incredibly honored to be on this journey with our partners in the DoD, just as we’re proud to deliver goods for our freight partners every day. Kodiak was founded to build the world’s safest, most efficient, and most adaptable autonomous solutions. It’s a privilege to add the mission of protecting our country and our troops to that charge.