CLOSING: Remote-Controlled Autonomous Trucking Company Runs Out of Money

San Francisco, CA – Remote controlled self-driving truck startup, Starsky Robotics, is winding down operations after a mass layoff according to multiple reports.

According to reports by FreightWaves and CCJ, the San Francisco-based autonomous trucking company has laid off a majority of its employees after funding fell through in November of last year.

Since that time, Starsky co-founders Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, chief executive officer, and Kartik Tiwari, chief technology officer, have been searching for a potential buyer, but were unable to do so before the money ran out at the end of January.

 

According to both reports, Paul Schlegel, the company’s former senior vice president, went on the record to discuss Starksy’s financial struggles.

“When we had an investor pull out at the last minute, we didn’t have a lot of time to recover and that really hurt us,” Schlegel told FreightWaves.

Schlegel was hired by Starsky to manage the company’s over-the-road (OTR) trucking business, which management believed would enhance the company’s driverless technology offerings.

In a June 10, 2019, blogpost, Seltz-Axmacher said Starsky was proud to be working with some of the largest and most successful trucking companies in America.

“We’ve teamed up with some of the most recognizable companies in the industry, including Schneider Logistics,” he wrote.

He revealed that Starsky’s fleet was hauling 100 loads per month for the mega-carrier.

However, Schlegel told CCJ it was the asset-based trucking company that likely prevented investors from continuing to pour money into the company.

 

Even though the trucking company was almost to the level of profitability, Schlegel says it ultimately spooked investors.

“They wanted to put money into engineers and sell that idea to somebody else,” he said.

So, to entice investment, Starsky unceremoniously shuttered its OTR trucking operation in December of last year.

It’s been shopping itself to competitors such as Waymo, TuSimple, Embark and others ever since.

Unfortunately for Starsky, Seltz-Axmacher has yet to close a deal though he continues to work to that end, Schlegel says.

The Promise of Teleoperation Technology

Starsky was founded in 2015 on the promise it could develop and successfully integrate autonomous technology which allows a big rig to be operated by a driver hundreds of miles away.

The technology, known as teleoperation, has been in testing since that time.

 

It was just last year, in June, when Starsky successfully tested an unmanned run in Florida.

The unmanned test was conducted along a 9.4-mile route on the Florida Turnpike, about 50 miles west of Vero Beach.

Seltz-Axmacher said the truck successfully navigated a rest area, merged onto the highway, changed lanes and kept a speed of 55 mph.


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A remote operator located in an office in Jacksonville, FL — approximately 200 miles from the test site — guided the truck on its first and last mile, which was approximately 0.2 miles.

It’s Starsky’s teleoperation technology that investors were initially excited and intrigued by, Schlegel told CCJ.

Further, Starksy partnered with Loadsmart, a digital freight broker that specializes in full truckload shipping, in August of last year.

The two companies were able to automatically dispatch an autonomous truck to haul freight and complete the delivery without human involvement.

 

At the time, Seltz-Axmacher declared it the “future of trucking.”

Even still, it wasn’t enough to attract the funding Starsky ultimately required.

Despite the failure, Schlegel says he’s proud the winding down of business operations was done with respect given to employees.

“We did it right, at least,” he told CCJ. “Not one driver got left stranded. We made sure they were home and the equipment was secure.

Photo courtesy of Starsky Robotics

 


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