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Self-driving trucking company opens facility in Houston

Houston is now home to Kodiak and Ryder's autonomous "truckport" facility. Photo courtesy of Kodiak

In a major step toward driverless freight trucks hitting Houston-area roads, a facility for loading and unloading autonomous trucks opened recently near George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport

Miami-based transportation and logistics company Ryder operates the “truckport” for Mountain View, California-based Kodiak Robotics, which runs a network of autonomous freight trucks. The facility, located at 888 E. Airtex Dr., opened in December. It’s next to a Ryder maintenance center.

“The truckport can currently receive several truckloads per day, and the size of the Ryder facility provides the opportunity to scale much larger than that,” says Daniel Goff, director of external affairs at Kodiak.

“The number of employees stationed at the facility fluctuates day by day,” Goff adds. “Kodiak’s team that staffs the facility in this initial phase operates on a flexible schedule to align with the needs of the trucks that are utilizing the truckport.”

The Houston site is the first Kodiak truckport to be located at a Ryder facility. It serves freight routes to and from Houston, Dallas, and Oklahoma City.

Kodiak currently operates all routes with drivers on board, including its Houston-Dallas and Houston-Oklahoma City routes. The company plans to roll out its first driverless operations on Dallas-Houston route later this year, with the new Houston facility serving as a launchpad.

“Ryder’s industry-leading fleet services and vast footprint of service locations makes it an ideal partner as we scale autonomous trucks,” Don Burnette, founder and CEO of Kodiak, says in a news release. “Expanding our network of truckports with Ryder will enable us to operate autonomous trucks at scale with our customers.”

The most recent version of Kodiak’s truck debuted in Las Vegas at the recent 2024 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Kodiak says the truck is equipped with safety-oriented software and hardware (including braking, steering and sensors).

Kodiak’s sixth-generation truck builds on the company’s track record of real-world testing, which includes carrying 5,000 loads over more than 2.5 million miles.

Founded in 2018, Kodiak has been delivering freight in Texas since mid-2019, including on the Houston-Dallas route. Kodiak announced in 2022 that it had teamed up with Swedish retailer IKEA to pilot autonomous freight deliveries in Texas between the IKEA warehouse in Baytown and the IKEA store in Frisco.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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A View From HETI

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want. Photo courtesy of Boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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