The Journey Ahead for Self-Driving Trucks

Trucks are the secret backbone of our economy. They are a part of all of our lives — delivering groceries to the local market, transporting lumber and steel to build our homes, bringing us supplies in a disaster. Yet trucks are hidden in plain sight, often around back at the loading dock or out on rural highways moving through the night.

Trucking has never been at a more critical moment. A shortage of drivers, new regulations, growing accident rates, the rise of ecommerce — these issues are rapidly changing an industry at the core of American society. And despite their importance, truck drivers are often overlooked, overworked, and put in harm’s way.

We think self-driving trucks can help solve these challenges. We’ve spent our careers building new technologies, from electric motorcycles to wind turbines to self-driving cars. We came together over a passion for trucking, and created Ike with a mission to make trucks safer, truckers more valuable, and trucking more efficient.

We have made a lot of progress, but we’ve got a lot more work to do. And the longer we’ve worked on this technology, the harder we’ve realized it is. We’ve concluded that it’s going to take a different approach to do this for real.

So instead of focusing on our progress, we’d like to share some hard-earned lessons from many years of collective experience, as we take the next step in a long journey to a real self-driving truck product.

This is about people

When you live in Silicon Valley, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement around the newest technologies. But too often we lose sight of the true purpose of this stuff: to make people’s lives better. We’ve spent a lot of time with truckers, manufacturers and component suppliers, fleet operators, shippers, highway patrol officers and labor experts. We have much more to learn, but one thing they have taught us is that if we are going to succeed, we need to build technology that the trucking industry wants to use. Technology that helps truck drivers, not replaces them. By focusing our product on highway operation, we think it’s possible to build a self-driving truck that creates more and better truck driving jobs, so drivers can sleep in their own beds at night and use their skills and expertise where it matters.

This is a systems problem

You often hear that self-driving technology is a “software problem.” We disagree. While there is a lot of tough computer science work ahead of us, creating a self-driving truck is actually a systems problem. It’s about computer vision and deep learning, but it’s also about wire harnesses, alternators, and steering columns. It’s about durable sensors, well crafted regulations, and a clear approach to validation. Ike has systems engineering at its core. Our technical development is based on rigorous requirements that we test against daily. This development process will allow us to build a product that works at scale — when thousands of trucks equipped with our technology are driving millions of miles on the interstate. It takes a little longer to get that right at the beginning, but we think it’s the only way that will really work.

We need new perspectives

One of the most important lessons we’ve learned is that if you want to solve a tough problem, you have to create a team with different experiences and backgrounds. The Ike team today has engineers who have worked on many top self-driving vehicle teams. More importantly, we have people who have built buses, surgical devices, spacecraft, solar panels and, yes, driven trucks. We want to be the most diverse and inclusive team in the world. We’re actively seeking out engineers with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives — no autonomous vehicle experience required.

You should judge us by our actions

Anyone can say they care about safety. We’ll ask you to measure us based on what we deliver in the coming years, not what we claim today. For us, safety means building a reliable system from the very start, by investing in a rigorous design, taking time to test everything carefully before going on public roads, hiring and training experienced truck drivers, and being clear about how we will prove performance. We’ll have much more to share about our approach to safety and validation in the future. For now, we commit to being responsible and transparent on these issues, and deeply engaged with regulators and other stakeholders. We take this responsibility seriously, and expect to be held to a very high bar.

These are lessons we talk about all the time as a team, and values we look for with every new hire. These principles drive our roadmap, strategy, and interaction with the world. That experience is why Bain Capital Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Fontinalis Partners, Basis Set Ventures, and Neo have combined to invest $52 million in Ike’s Series A. Each investor brings unique and deep experience in critical facets of robotics, logistics, transportation, engineering, and company building. They also believe in the potential of self-driving trucks to save lives, make our economy more productive, and improve truckers’ livelihoods. Their support, along with our talented (and growing) team, and the huge technology advantage Ike has created, puts us on the path to building a safe and reliable self-driving trucking system at scale.

We are so excited for the long journey ahead. See you on down the road.

Nancy Sun, Jur van den Berg, Alden Woodrow, and the entire Ike team