Autonomy in tucks is a necessity, considering human drivers have limitations on long-haul journeys. It’s inevitable that autonomous technology developed for cars will morph over to trucks, but Otto is planning ahead. Otto, a San Francisco startup, is developing hardware to make trucks autonomous. Uber acquired Otto in 2015 for $680 million, opening new avenues for both companies. And now, Otto announced its first successful journey: the 120 mile journey of 50,000 Budweiser cans from Fort Collins, Colorado to Colorado Springs in a self-driving truck.
The purpose of Otto’s hardware and software is to reduce the stress on drivers on long, monotonous highway journeys. Majority of road accidents involving trucks are due to driver-generated mistakes, probably because of boredom and lack of concentration. This job can, very effectively, be done by a computer in a much safer manner. Plus, giving the wheel to software means improving fuel economy and reducing over-speeding, while the driver takes a short nap!
For the journey, Otto rigged up a Volvo truck with radar and lidar sensors and cameras. Otto’s technology delivers level 4 on the autonomy scale, which means it can drive off-ramp to on-ramp with great accuracy and consistency. The “driver”, who is now a computer scientist, tracks all the incoming information from the sensors and the system’s response to it. In fact, on this journey from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, the driver didn’t even sit in the driver's seat! Instead, he monitored the truck from the back row. Of course, the system will stop working in cities; drivers need to take back control once they are in urban environments.
This journey marks a point of transition to full autonomy in trucks on highway roads. In a few months, we shouldn’t be surprised to hear about self-driving trucks doing cross-country trips, pushing the boundaries of autonomous technology. For now, some residents of Colorado Springs will enjoy a special Budweiser can: "First delivery by self-driving truck."
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Also read: Tesla cars now produced will have "Full Self-Driving Hardware" which will be safer than human drivers