Google alums to make self-driving 18-wheelers a thing

JC Torres - May 17, 2016, 5:00am CDT
Google alums to make self-driving 18-wheelers a thing

Google’s passion, nay perhaps even obsession, for self-driving vehicles seems to run deep in its employees even after they have left the mothership. Or rather, they leave in order to extend Google’s dream beyond the current passenger car limits. That does seem to be the case for Anthony Levandowski, who was instrumental in steering, pun intended, Google’s self-driving car efforts. He and two other Google veterans, including other former employees from Tesla and even Apple, have formed Otto, a startup that is working on self-driving trucks that would make highways a safer place to drive.

Considering how monstrous these 18-wheeler trucks are, some of them carrying 80,000 lbs of cargo, the idea of one being driven by nothing but a computer seems almost counter intuitive to the cause of highway safety. But the same kind of reasoning used for self-driving passenger cars are being applied here. Trucks driven by robots are less likely to do the insane, careless, or dangerous things humans are wont to do. They also don’t get tired after hours of almost endless driving down straight highways.

But Levandowski and company are no foolish dreamers. They aren’t handing over total control to the computer. Human drivers are still required to take the wheel when driving through cities. The autonomous driver only kicks in once on the highway. And Otto is testing so far only in Nevada, as the state has less stringent requirements for self-driving tests compared to, say, California. So far, its tests have involved three big-rig trucks equipped with sensors, cameras, and computers. Its next step is to look for volunteers willing to test and help fine tune the system. Eventually, Otto’s goal is to equip all of the U.S. 4.7 million trucks.

It’s a goal that will definitely take some time to come true, even if the technology becomes available, tested, and stable. Self-driving passenger cars themselves are already hitting road blocks in both legislation and public opinion. Hulking monsters that are trucks are even more likely to induce skepticism and fear. It will probably happen eventually, but not any time soon.

VIA: Beaumont Enterprise

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