Because of significant technological and legal challenges, fully autonomous vehicles are still years away for consumers. Those same problems don't affect the military running self-driving trucks off-road, though. Kodiak Robotics is showcasing the company's first autonomous military prototype platform that lets a Ford F-150 navigate without a human behind the wheel.
Kodiak delivered its first autonomous F-150 to the military in November as a testbed for future innovations. The US Army is evaluating the tech for reconnaissance, surveillance, and high-risk missions. The next step is implementing the system on the purpose-built vehicles that the armed forces use.
Gallery: Kodiak Robotics Autonomous Ford F-150
Kodiak had this autonomous truck ready in just six months because it adapted self-driving tech the company was already testing on semi-trucks. The key to this system is the DefensePod, the protrusions you see on each side of this F-150. They're a modular solution, meaning Kodiak can adapt the system to other vehicles, not just Ford pickups. The final version of this tech would use military-spec vehicles
Only mechanical modifications to the F-150 allow the self-driving equipment to interface with the truck's computers. There are also suspension tweaks so that the pickup can perform better off-road.
The DefensePod sensors use a mix of radar, lidar, and cameras to operate a vehicle autonomously. Kodiak says the system can function in areas with degraded GPS and take a truck through rocks, dust, mud, and water. It's even possible to take control remotely, or let an occupant drive normally.
Kodiak claims that soldiers can maintain the DefensePods with minimal training allowing the military to keep them going if something happens during a mission. Swapping out parts reportedly takes 10 minutes or less.
Ford isn't a collaborator on this project. Kodiak picked the truck simply because of its proven track record.
"Kodiak chose the F-150 based on an industry-wide analysis of the best vehicle to use for this program," Nathaniel Parker, General Manager of the Defense and Public Sector at Kodiak Robotics, told Motor1. They selected this pickup because it was a good baseline. It had enough space to fit the necessary computers and could perform well off-road.
Basically, this is a proof of concept for the military to evaluate. In the future, Kodiak would apply this tech to actual military vehicles.