The mission of technology startup Ike is to develop automated trucking technology tools that build upon the expertise of experienced truck drivers, and that's why the firm has been named to FreightWaves' list of the top 25 innovative and disruptive freight transportation companies. Ike garnered the 24th spot.
"We have much more to do and to learn, but we know 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," a company spokesperson told FreightWaves.
Although Ike is a young company, its leadership has been involved in the development of autonomous trucking for years. The founders of the company came from Uber Freight and self-driving trucking startup Otto, according to a February 2019 TechCrunch article. As a result, the leadership has experience incorporating technology with trucking operations and infrastructure such as trailers and maintenance facilities.
Ike is developing technology that allows Class 8 tractor-trailer trucks to drive safely and reliably without a driver, the company said. Ike's assets include a fleet of prototype vehicles equipped with its technology, including Class 8 tractors and a Toyota Prius for mapping and data collection. The fleet has been operating on interstate highways through northern California, the Central Valley of California, the Los Angeles Basin and in Arizona.
"By focusing our product on safe and reliable highway transportation of freight, we think it's possible to build automated trucking that creates better truck driving jobs so more drivers can sleep in their own beds at night and use their skills and expertise where it matters," Ike said.
The company continued, "In the future, some truckers will move loads to and from the highway and hand off to a driverless automated truck for the long haul. That's a great match between human skills and new technology that can also help make the industry safer and more productive."
Ike is named after former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhowser, who himself helped to create the U.S. highway interstate system. To build the company, Ike raised $52 million in a Series A funding round led by Bain Capital Ventures, FreightWaves reported in February.
As companies such as Ike develop autonomous trucking technologies, they consider factors such as who is going to deploy the technology and how that technology will work with a potential customer's existing operations. A company's answers to these issues is why tech companies have developed different business strategies or plans to address autonomous trucking, according to Steve Viscelli, a consultant and an instructor and fellow with the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.
"If you zoom out, everybody has pretty similar approaches and identifications to what the problems are," but their approaches to those problems are different, said Viscell, an economic and political sociologist. As a result, one company is looking at combining remote operations with autonomous trucking, while another is looking at putting human drivers in a control center to pilot trucks, he said.
"You start to see real differences even though you know that there's really a similar set of problems identified," Viscelli said.
What makes Ike distinctive is the focus on how its autonomous technology complements existing trucking operations, he said.
"I appreciate the long-term approach and the concern about how they're going to fit with the various players, which include drivers and other segments of the industry," Viscelli said. "And so I think that would be one of the things that really stands out to me about Ike is the thoughtfulness to which they're approaching how they might fit into the industry."
Companies named to the 2020 FreightTech 25 were judged by an external panel of industry experts, with voting conducted and overseen by accounting firm Katz, Sapper & Miller (KSM).
Each member of the panel ranked their top 25 companies on a 1- to 25-point basis. The companies generating the most points make up the FreightTech 25.