Kodiak targets driverless trucks in 2023, partners with SK for Asian market

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BERKELEY, California, May 26 (Reuters) - U.S. self-driving truck startup Kodiak Robotics Inc is looking into a joint venture with the holding firm of South Korean conglomerate SK Group to gain a foothold in the Asian market, its co-founder told Reuters.

The startup, launched three years ago by Don Burnette, a former Waymo engineer who co-founded self-driving trucking company Otto, aims to remove drivers from trucks in 2023, he said.

The California-based company competes with bigger rivals like Waymo and Aurora, which have shifted their focus to trucking services, as the autonomous robotaxi market has not taken off despite years of development.

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The trucking industry has a shortage of workers and limited driving time, while demand is growing for e-commerce because of the pandemic.

"My thought process has evolved along the way from let's try to solve everything to let's try to really focus on a narrow specific problem that has a good business application ... and also is technologically feasible," he said, referring to long-haul trucking.

Still, he said, it will take "decade plus" for the technology to become ubiquitous, given the low turnover rate of truck fleet.

Kodiak Robotics on Wednesday announced a partnership with SK Holdings (034730.KS) to bring the Kodiak Driver, the company's self-driving technology, to Asia-Pacific markets such as Korea and China.

"For companies like Kodak, you can't just decide to break into other markets, particularly the Asian markets without having the right partners in place," Burnette said.

When asked about the possibility a joint venture, SK said that the company was in early stages of discussions about “partnerships." SK said it would have detailed talks after Kodiak commercializes its technology in the United States.

SK, Korea's third-biggest conglomerate, whose business interest ranges from chips, batteries to telecom services, said it is exploring investments in mobility firms after its investment in Grab and Turo.

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Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin. Editing by Gerry Doyle

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