Former Google engineers look to autonomous trucking

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A new startup in the US looks to retrofit heavy vehicles for autonomous work


Former Google, Apple, and Tesla engineers are behind new San Francisco-based startup Otto, which is taking a different approach to the future of autonomous trucking.

In a statement from co-founders Anthony Levandowski and Lior Ron, the US company says it is looking to "empower truck drivers to drive more safely and efficiently" by "equipping existing trucks on the road with our unique self-driving kit" rather than building self-driving vehicles from scratch.

While Otto is still "developing a suite of sensors, software and truck enhancements [that come] together in a product that can be quickly outfitted on existing trucks," it says it has already completed an on-highway autonomous demonstration on public roads and is conducting tests with a research fleet.

"We intend to enhance the capabilities of the Otto truck, collect safety data to demonstrate its benefits, and bring this technology to every corner of the US highway system," the co-founders say.

"This is a critical effort, with wide reaching implications for all of us, that requires cooperation between government agencies, the private sector, truck fleets, drivers, manufacturers and the brightest engineers."

Using a Volvo VNL 780 as the test truck, the project is currently self-funded by the team but that may change as a commercial product is produced.

The co-founders both have a history with Google’s self-driving project and, in the case of Levandowski, a history of autonomous vehicles that extends further back.

"At the heart of our vision is the belief that self-driving tech is the key for creating a more sustainable, productive — and above all, safer — transportation future," the co-founders say.

"Our team has come from many places, including Google, Apple, and Tesla.

"We are at Otto because we’re driven by an urgency and deep obligation to accelerate the future.

"It’s time to rethink the way we move goods on the road."

The interest in self-driving vehicles has grown exponentially in recent times, with the European challenge seeing six truck manufacturers platooning through the continent to The Netherlands.

The challenge follows a number of self-driving mining truck trials, and Freightliner’s autonomous inspiration truck that received a Nevada registration last year.

Watch a video of the Otto truck in action below.




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