San Francisco-based Starsky Robotics announced today a new round of investment and a significant milestone toward realizing an autonomous trucking future.
In a blog post, the company said it raised $16.5 million of venture capital in a round led by Shasta Ventures. The investment included previous investors such as Y Combinator, Trucks.vc, 50 Years and 9Point Ventures.
Perhaps more critically, the company also said it drove a truck 7 miles in Hendry County, Fla. without a human in the cab. That led to the bold claim that it was the first such fully unmanned run, placing it well in front of its rivals.
“The fact that we have unmanned autonomous trucks on the road, it means everyone else working on self-driving trucks is irrelevant,” said Starsky, chief executive and co-founder Stefan Seltz-Axmacher.
While companies are taking different approaches toward autonomous trucking, including platooning, or hybrid systems that depend on drivers, Starsky has its sights set on eliminating humans from the cab as soon as possible. The company believes fully autonomous trucks will be the quickest solution to the industry’s chronic issues of driver shortages and high turnover, while also unleashing a broader economic revolution.
“The trucking industry can’t fill all the jobs it has today,” Rob Coneybeer, managing director of Shasta Ventures, said in a statement. “The delivery of goods isn’t going anywhere, but the labor shortage in the industry looms large, threatening its long-term growth.”
Starsky fits is amplifying the productivity of experienced drivers and helping the industry continue to grow, Coneybeer said.
“It is also transforming logistics as we know it,” he said.
Starsky has a two-part system. It’s using remote-control to navigate trucks around truck yards and local streets for pick up and drop off, and for getting to the highway, where a fully autonomous system takes control.
Last September, the company said it set a record for the longest autonomous trip when one of its trucks hauled water 68 miles to Hurricane Irma victims in Florida. But that still included a person in the truck.
Just last month, the company successfully completed the 7-mile, fully autonomous run. That came after intensive testing that involved trying to predict countless scenarios where something could fail or some unexpected obstacle could emerge, Seltz-Axmacher said.
Since coming out of stealth last year, the company has grown its workforce from 11 to 21. It has now raised a total of $21 million. Starsky will need that money as it finds itself confronting giants of the automotive world such as Volvo and newcomers from Silicon Valley including Google’s Waymo division and Uber Technologies’ Advanced Technologies Group.
Over the coming year, the company will continue to focus on developing its products, growing its team, and searching for partners who will help deploy its autonomous technology.
“We want to get this out of the lab and onto the road,” Seltz-Axmacher said. “For an industry that isn’t considered tech forward, this is something they are eager deploy.”