Photo Courtesy: Starsky Robotics
Two more companies have recently thrown their hats into the self-driving truck arena. San Mateo, CA, based Embark led by co-founders Alex Rodrigues, a 21-year-old robotics expert, and Brandon Moak, have “created a technology that allows trucks to drive from exit to exit on the freeway without any human input,” as stated in their press release. San Francisco-based Starsky Robotics are the second company and it is their stated aim to take drivers off the road and put them in an office!
Uber’s Legal Problems
This comes at a fortuitous time as Uber becomes embroiled in a legal fight with Google, being accused of stealing critical autonomous driving technology. Otto, was a self-driving truck Silicon Valley startup run by former Google employee Corey Levandowski. They were in the business of developing self-driving truck retrofit kits with an estimated cost of $30,000 – $50,000 per truck. Uber paid $680 million for the company in August last year.
This legal action could be a serious problem for Uber and slow down, if not halt, their development of autonomous technology. There is even speculation that criminal proceedings could be brought against Corey Levandowski himself.
Embark’s Goal is to Increase Driver Productivity
As we know the trucking industry is facing a critical shortage of drivers. Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues stated:
“The American Transportation Research Institute estimates there is currently a shortage of 100,000 truck drivers in the industry, which is poised to only get worse as baby boomer drivers – the bulk of the industry’s workforce – retire over the next decade. Embark’s goal is to increase productivity per driver and prevent the shortage from becoming a crisis.”
Embark uses a form of Artificial Intelligence known as Deep Neural Nets (DNNs) through which millions of data points are funneled in real time, enabling the truck to learn from its past experience.
“Analyzing terabytes upon terabytes of real world data, DNNs have learned how to see through glare, Fog and darkness on their own,” said Alex Rodrigues. “We’ve programmed them with a set of rules to help safely navigate most situations, how to safely learn from the unexpected, and how to apply that experience to new situations going forward.”
Embark’s vision is for trucks to drive autonomously on highways and to be met at off ramp staging areas outside cities by human drivers for last mile delivery.
Starsky Engage Remote Control for Last Mile Delivery
Not so for Starsky Robotics. They use a combination of software, radar and computer vision cameras to drive long-haul trucks autonomously on the highway, and then turn the job over to a trained “driver” to remotely control the truck for the last mile delivery from highway exit to final destination.
“Our remote drivers will pilot trucks from the door of the distribution center to the highway, then remotely engage the autonomous system,” Starsky founder and CEO Stephan Seltz-Axmacher said. “When the truck gets close to the offramp, another remote driver will take control of the vehicle to its final destination.”
Starsky have developed an after-market retrofit kit which includes all the robotics controls required to physically operate the pedals, steering wheel and gears. They plan to hire truck drivers with at least five years experience and a clean driving record. Each driver can monitor and control between 10 to 30 trucks at a time. They will contract their services out to trucking companies.
The video above captures their first demonstration ride carrying a 5000 pound load of empty milk crates 120 miles, with the truck driving autonomously about 85% of the time.
There is no doubt driverless truck technology will make highways a safer place and deliver significant cost savings to trucking companies. The only question is when?
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