A commercial truck,with $30,000 worth of hardware and software from San Francisco startup Otto made the world’s first autonomous truck deliver. The delivery was 50,000 cans of Budweiser. The truck self drove 120 miles south to Colorado Springs.
The technology works only on the highway, where it doesn’t have to deal with tricky variables like jaywalking pedestrians, four-way stops, or kids on bicycles. It maintains a safe following distance, and changes lanes only when absolutely necessary.
And unlike Tesla’s Autopilot, Otto’s system offers true ‘Level 4’ autonomy. Once the rig hits the interstate, it is entirely capable of the job at hand, letting the human deal with paperwork, thumb her phone, or even catch a few Z’s.
They see a day when trucks do their thing on the interstate, then stop at designated depots where humans drive the last few miles into town. Drivers, in effect, become harbor pilots, bringing the ship to port.
Otto’s hardware works on any truck with an automatic transmission, and the retrofit doesn’t look like much. Three LIDAR laser detection units dot the cab and trailer, a radar bolts to the bumper, and a high-precision camera sits above the windshield.
The trucking industry hauls 70 percent of the nation’s freight—about 10.5 billion tons annually—and simply doesn’t have enough drivers. The American Trucking Association pegs the shortfall at 48,000 drivers, and says it could hit 175,000 by 2024.
There are 400,0000 trucks crash each year in the USA, according to federal statistics, killing about 4,000 people. In almost every case, human error is to blame
Otto is moving quickly. The company launched in January, and quickly bought its first truck. By May, it had a working prototype. A fleet of six trucks roams interstates 101 and 280 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Engineers push software tweaks weekly, and major updates every month or so.
Right now, they’re focusing on the basics—smoothing out the acceleration and braking, improving lane control, that sort of thing. Longer-term goals include predicting how other drivers are likely to behave, navigating construction zones, and dealing with hazards like sudden bad weather.
SOURCES – Wired