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Kodiak Technology Drives National Security

Don Burnette


Kodiak truck on highway

Over the course of my 15-year career in the autonomous vehicle industry, I have seen the technology move from the lab to the roads to the cusp of commercial deployment. I founded Kodiak because I believe autonomous technology will save lives, not just someday, but soon.

I studied at Carnegie Mellon University, a worldwide leader in robotics and AI research, following the pioneering DARPA Grand Challenge, which famously kickstarted the self-driving industry. Since that time, the focus of autonomous technology development has largely migrated from the defense industry to the civilian sector. While Kodiak was founded to revolutionize the way freight moves—and remains focused on long-haul trucking—we’ve always kept an eye on other synergistic use cases for our technology, including defense.

In 2021, we were proud to receive a U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research contract. Through that contract, we worked with leaders at Dover Air Force Base to develop a software platform for simulated autonomous vehicles that could navigate the Dover flightline. Our work with the Air Force helped us understand the tremendous potential of AV technology in defense applications.

The success of our program with the Air Force clearly demonstrated the portability of the kodiakDriver, our self-driving technology, to other environments and the deep need for AI technologies in defense. In October 2022, we were honored to be selected by the United States Army and the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) for a 24-month, $49.9 million agreement to adapt our self-driving platform for the Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) program. Kodiak was the only autonomous vehicle company initially selected for this award out of 33 submissions, thanks to our proven leadership in autonomous systems development and commercialization, as well as our foundational focus on safety.

Developing the autonomous solution for future Army ground vehicles designed for reconnaissance, surveillance, and other high-risk missions.

Through this agreement, we will work with the RCV program office to develop the autonomous solution for future Army ground vehicles designed for reconnaissance, surveillance, and other high-risk missions. Additionally, we will develop remote driving capabilities that will increase the flexibility and resiliency of these vehicles while further reducing risk for soldiers and saving the lives of US servicemen and women.

Since the DARPA Grand Challenge, the commercial technology industry has greatly matured and developed autonomous vehicle technology. The Army and DIU see an opportunity to leverage those ongoing developments for national security, using non-traditional defense acquisition models like Kodiak’s contract in support of the RCV program. As we progress our commercial product over the next 24 months and beyond, we will provide that increased functionality and performance to the Army.  More specifically, a key part of the project will be to develop a continuous technical pipeline that will enable the rapid development and deployment of new autonomous vehicle technologies as they become commercially available. The capabilities we will develop over the next two years for the Army and DIU align closely with our trucking roadmap. Our military work will help us progress Kodiak’s trucking stack and core commercial offering, including partnering with the Army and DIU to ensure the kodiakDriver meets the highest standards for safety and security.

Kodiak’s contract with the Army comes at a critical time. As Alexandr Wang has persuasively argued, nimble, AI-powered technologies will soon dominate the battlefield. The United States must continue to innovate and adapt disruptive technologies for defense purposes. Kodiak is proud to do our part to ensure the U.S. military’s technological superiority endures for future generations.

The Army’s motto is “This We’ll Defend.” At Kodiak, we are honored to take on the challenge of developing technology to protect those who defend us. We believe our work with the Army and DIU will both help strengthen national security and further accelerate our path to commercial deployment of our long-haul self-driving trucking technology. We owe a debt of gratitude to the servicemen and women who step into harm’s way to keep us safe; keeping them safe in return is an honor we take seriously.