Some of the key players behind Google’s driverless cars are behind a new project, this time involving driverless trucks. The former Alphabet executives founded Otto, which aims to disrupt the US$700bn US trucking industry.
The group is headed by Anthony Levandowski, a developer of Alphabet’s self-driving cars, and Lior Ron, a former executive at Google Maps. The two other co-founders are Don Burnette and Claire Delaunay.
“We feel that solving the highway problem, and the truck moving on the highway, is a challenge that we can solve with the technologies that exist today,” Ron said. He added that motorway driving is easier than city driving due to lack of pedestrians and fewer intersections.
Trucks also have an advantage over cars because sensors can be placed higher off the ground, allowing lasers and cameras to see further.
Otto plans to sell the technology to retrofit older trucks, but there is no target release date yet. The self-driving system will only work on motorways, with human drivers needed off-motorways, allowing trucks to travel greater distances.
“The truck driver is basically now on autopilot, he is more of a supervisor,” said Ron. “We are driving exit to exit autonomously and on those exits the truck driver is still there to be able to refuel and provide support.”
Three trucks are already being tested by Otto on California highways. Similar tests
are also planned in the UK.
The emergence of driverless vehicle technology has caused some discussion regarding the nature of insurance in a future with self-driving cars. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has decided
that the self-driving system may soon be given the same legal recognition as a human car driver. Manufacturers such as Volvo have offered to insure their own vehicles, which may serve as precedent for car manufacturers or developers such Google to enter the insurance industry by providing cover to their customers.