Google's self-driving car project (now Waymo) has arguably been at the forefront of the autonomous car movement, testing on public roads since 2009. So when its founder, Anthony Levandowski, left to found a driverless truck startup called Otto, the venture was sure to bring important insight into autonomous tech into the trucking world.
Uber jumped on the opportunity to break into trucking. In 2016, it purchased Otto for $680 million, marking one of that year's most important announcements in the driverless vehicle world. In February 2017, it also became the subject of a lawsuit by Waymo over its driverless technology.
Otto is, it seems, one of the biggest players in driverless trucks. But it's not the only one.With the trucking industry—and its reliance on long-haul highway driving—poised to have a major impact as driverless technology advances, other companies are joining the race.
Last week, three new startups—Embark, Starsky Robotics and Drive.ai—gave details on their upcoming forays into driverless trucking. Here they are:
The San Francisco-based startup has retrofitted Peterbilt semi-trucks with two laser sensors and cameras to test self-driving software. The tech includes a combination of radars, cameras and LiDAR, and applies deep neural nets (a form of machine learning) to understand the data it collects—a similar approach to Tesla. It has just been granted approval to begin testing on public roads in Nevada and on a closed course in California.
Another Bay-area startup, Starsky has already raised $3.75 million. The WSJ hasreported that the company intends to begin testing its autonomous trucks with humans on board shortly. By the end of 2016, Starsky plans to do these tests without anyone in the truck, on highways in states such as Michigan, Nevada or Florida. Starsky also plans to not just test the tech—it wants to haul actual loads to collect income.
The philosophy of the Mountain View, CA startup Drive.ai is that the autonomous vehicles can start out by using the vehicles for local deliveries, in a limited area. In this way, it believes it can determine the best routes for automated driving. In 2016, the company was given permission to begin testing in California, and plans to have several other test routes this year.
These are not the only autonomous trucking companies. Daimler's autonomous 18-wheelers are currently using driverless tech on public roads in Germany, and Volvo AB is also working on the technology. While many see autonomous trucking as one of the first places where AI will majorly disrupt the workforce, displacing long-haul drivers, some experts also note that the industry is struggling to find drivers.
- When will we get driverless cars? Experts say public opinion is the critical factor (TechRepublic)
- Autonomous driving levels 0 to 5: Understanding the differences (TechRepublic)
- 7 autonomous vehicle partnerships that will shape the future (TechRepublic)
- Top 10 developments of 2016 in autonomous vehicles (TechRepublic)
- Daimler's self-driving 18-wheelers ready to take to the autobahn (ZDNet)
- 'AI as co-pilot': The state of autonomous driving, from the auto world's headquarters in Detroit (TechRepublic)
Hope Reese has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Hope Reese is a journalist in Louisville, KY. Her writing has been featured in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, Playboy, Undark Magazine, VICE, Vox, and other publications.