Sporadic spates of media about self-driving vehicles, signaling the era of driverless machines, are always doing rounds. But does this mean self-driving capabilities for long-haul trucks are almost ready for prime time?
While several questions cloud the trucking world, the evolution of self-driving is raising stakes in the freight industry. Big tech giants like Google, Uber, and Tesla are heavily investing to uplevel their self-driving game. They are eyeing the great potential to minimize road accidents, increase on-time arrivals, and cut costs. Let’s take a reality check of the recent developments in the world of self-driving or semi-automatic trucks. Here are some companies accelerating the pace of bringing about a more human-less driving future:
Plus.ai: Investments started bearing fruits for this self-driving vehicle start-up very early. After raising its Series B funding worth $200 million in Aug 2019, this disruptor took less than five months to bag a coast-to-coast run in a driverless mode. The autonomous Level-4 truck set on a course of 2,800 miles to haul reefer goods from California to Pennsylvania. Even more worthy is that it surmounted all this in less than three days and amidst changing weather conditions.
Embark Trucks: One big-time proponent of the driverless philosophy, Embark Trucks was able to pull off a commendable feat. In 2017, they moved refrigerators from Texas to California, covering almost 306 miles in a stretch in late 2017. Everything was in a self-driven mode and seamlessly executed.
Peterbilt Motor Company: CES, the world’s largest consumer electronics exhibition, was this start-up’s curtain-raiser to enter autonomous trucking. In early 2019, Peterbilt, along with their partner Embark, developed a Level-4 autonomous truck that succeeded in completing its maiden drive.
TuSimple, Inc.: 2019 marked the peak of their performance when TuSimple’s self-driving technology catered to the US postal services by delivering mail for them for two weeks straight. Also, it hauled loads for UPS over several months. They were able to reel in more than $120 million from investors, and since its inception in 2015, TuSimple is the predominant leader in the market.
Waymo LLC: Waymo’s primary focus is long-haul trucks and empowering them to cover long distances in a self-driving mode. Backed by Alphabet (Google’s parent company), they have been testing since 2017, and in 2018, their self-driving trucks started hauling to various Google locations.
Volvo Group: Vera was Volvo’s first self-driving truck. These cabin-less trucks have been traveling across Sweden with very little human intervention. In 2019, they picked up when they started leveraging their Forward Control High Entry (FH) trucks for a limestone mine in Norway.
Starsky Robotics: Starsky Robotics put their peers to the test. In 2019, their test truck ran for almost 10 miles on a highway. The drive was unmanned and at a speed of nearly 88 km per hour. They were the first-ever trucking company to achieve this goal.
Daimler AG: The Mercedes-Benz parent company, Daimler AG took this seriously since 2014. In 2019, their prototype truck, Cascadia, the first Class 8, Level 2 truck, made its appearance and demonstrated features like emergency braking, automatic lane centering, and flexible cruise control. Since then, Daimler AG is trying to invest heavily and scale its workforce to speed up its development.
Tesla, Inc.: Tesla is the most famous disruptor known for pulling its own weight and redefining innovation in the automobile world. Two of its Class 8 big rigs seamlessly traveled 240 miles in Nevada, fully autonomous, to deliver battery packs. Currently, Tesla is forging ahead with a vision for what the CEO and the great AI connoisseur, Elon Musk, calls – “Full Self-Driving.”
These are Level 1 – 4 vehicles, but the main deal is to make Level 5 – 6 trucks operational. So, let’s wait till our favorite commodities drop off from a truck that moves without any hands on its steering. It might resemble a cyberpunk, or sci-fi movie – a bit hard to reckon. But who doesn’t like a feel-good story?