Autonomous trucking is a tough industry, and it has seen many high-profile startups stumble and fall. Among the latest examples is Embark Technology, which has seen a drastic fall in valuation since it emerged as a public company in the past year. However, it is not alone, and the downfall of self-driving vehicles is not limited to the world of autonomous trucking.
Self-driving vehicles are progressing slowly. It is not just trucking suffering from the slow progress of autonomous vehicles. More than $100 billion has been poured into self-driving cars, but the attempts have all been mostly unsuccessful. There has been some use in construction, but even that is only under the right conditions.
- Robotic cars have been seen struggling with basic obstacles, and any unexpected situation like weather, animals, and “unprotected left turns” have proved difficult.
- There is data that suggests current autonomous vehicles are involved in accidents more frequently than people, even under safer conditions. It is a divide between how skilled humans are at driving and the technology level of autonomous vehicles.
A few startups have done okay, but only a few prominent funding recipients are still afloat. The current autonomous trucking survivors include Kodiak Robotics and Aurora. Kodiak received $165 million in total funding and is still attempting to make headway. On the other hand, Aurora went public by merger with a SPAC, Reinvent Technology, holding an initial market capitalization of around $13 billion.
- Kodiak Robotics took on debt financing to the tune of $30 million for its latest round.
- Aurora’s shares have dropped significantly since its peak around a year ago.
Some have faltered, including TuSimple, which has seen a significant drop in valuation after various incidents, such as trouble that led to a lawsuit and its legal chief resigning. The company also fired its CEO during an investigation into improper ties to a Chinese startup. Moreover, a major autonomous trucking deal between TuSimple and Navistar just ended.
- The startup hit a low of around $500 million in market cap from a previous $8.5 billion valuation.
Others have failed. Otto, Starsky Robotics, and Peloton Technology have all suffered defeats in autonomous trucking. The companies all shut down over the years, joining a long list of self-driving investments devouring funding with little to no results.
- Otto sold to Uber in 2016 for $680 million, but the company cut its autonomous trucking division a few years later to focus on cars.
- Starsky Robotics went under after failing to raise Series B funding. It raised around $20 million while in business.
- Peloton Technology raised more than $78 million in funding during its run, but it went out of business last year.
Safety concerns are a major issue holding companies back. There are plenty of safety issues surrounding self-driving vehicles, which include concerns about autonomous trucking. Even now, trucks that are on the road require “safety drivers” behind the wheel. Combine that with the inability to properly drive in many conditions and there is clear room for improvement before the tech goes anywhere, much less takes over.
There is still funding to go around, just not as much. Even now, investors are shelling out funding to autonomous trucking companies, including Warren Buffet. But many have accepted reality, acknowledging that the technology is unlikely to take hold anytime soon. Reality has come knocking, and many companies are not ready for it.