The virtual road ahead

Jeff Garnier
Kodiak Robotics
Published in
8 min readAug 11, 2020


Using simulation to train the Kodiak Driver.

One of the advantages of being a relatively young AV startup is that we have built Kodiak so we can take advantage of the growing self-driving ecosystem. A decade ago, when the industry first began, developers largely needed to build everything they needed for their self-driving systems themselves, from sensors to actuators to software. But today, companies like Kodiak have access to a large and growing ecosystem of high-quality off-the-shelf products.

Our development philosophy also reflects the progress the industry has made. Self-driving developers have noticed a paradox: the easiest driving also happens to be the most common, and the most complex and even dangerous situations, called edge cases, are (mercifully) the hardest to find. This paradox presents a challenge: demonstrating the safety of your self-driving vehicle requires more than just driving a ton of miles — it requires showing that your system can handle a comprehensive set of edge cases safely. But safely testing your system in those edge cases is virtually impossible.

That’s where simulation comes in. At Kodiak, we use a detailed simulation platform — not on-road testing — to test the Kodiak Driver’s ability to maneuver complex edge cases. This simulations-first approach allows us to make more progress faster than we could through just on-road testing. The Kodiak Driver can practice many more complex situations in a few minutes of simulation than it can in many hours in the real world — that simulation is safer and less expensive than on-road testing is just a bonus.

Just as the last few years have seen the growth of a robust sensor ecosystem, over the past few years a third-party simulation ecosystem has grown up to support AV developers. Rather than spend millions building our own simulation platform, we instead chose to partner with Applied Intuition, one of the leaders in this new industry. Unlike some simulation tools, which were built on top of platforms designed to generate images for movies and video games, Applied’s system was purpose-built for AVs. We think this makes Applied one of the most flexible and powerful simulation platforms available to anyone.

To understand how we use simulation in practice, take this real-world situation we encountered on I-45…