Disrupted Transport – retrofit kit turns legacy trucks into self drivers

Here’s how the self drive truck industry could overtake self drive cars

iDisrupted Commentary

More transport disruption more quickly. The promise of huge cost savings from self driving trucks is huge and there is a lot of investment going into building new designs. . . but that will take time to reach mass adoption – in the meantime a new startup, Otto is making a $30,000 retro fit kit for existing trucks – promising to seriously increase the adoption rate – with major economic benefits.
From Wired: “The trucking industry is ready for revolution. Autonomous trucks aren’t as sexy as driverless cars, but they could have a bigger impact on our lives. Within years, they could make the roads safer, the air cleaner, and deliveries cheaper.

All of this is closer than you think. Last year, Daimler unveiled the world’s first autonomous semi. Volvo is working with Europe’s Project Sartre to develop road trains where a caravan of robo-trucks follows a leader.

Disrupted Transport - Otto Self Driving Trucks - retro fit kitThe effort makes sense when you consider that trucks carry around 70 percent of the freight that transported across the US, and demand is growing. But shiny new trucks like the Daimler’s autonomous Freightliner will a long time to penetrate the market. Daimler says that won’t start happening until about 2025, meaning the 3.46 million big-rigs already on US roads aren’t getting any smarter anytime soon.

That’s why a new startup is developing a $30,000 kit that can make any truck built since 2013 autonomous. Otto, which comes out of hiding today, is led by Anthony Levandowski, who worked at Google on Streetview and mapping, and Lior Ron, who was the Google Maps Product Lead. They’re moving fast—the company launched in January and has about 40 employees nicked from Apple, Tesla, and Cruise, the autonomous startup GM recently bought for $1 billion.

Otto says its trucks eventually should be able to operate without a driver at the wheel. Someone will still be aboard, but not necessarily at the wheel. Otto says it has conducted limited tests, where regulations allow it (you can see it in the video).

The potential benefits of this are enormous. According to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration analysis, the driver was the key factor in 87 percent of big-rig crashes, poor decisions caused more than a third. Making the computer drive could get companies around strict rest rules for drivers, improving safety without sacrificing efficiency. “We felt an obligation to bring this technology to society sooner rather than later,” says Ron.

Retro-fitting trucks makes more sense than trying to give existing cars Knight Rider-inspired abilities. Otto’s $30,000 price estimate makes it highly unlikely anyone would adapt it to the family minivan. But the return on investment should come quickly on a $150,000 rig that drives hundreds of miles daily. The system only works on trucks built since 2013, when automated transmissions became widespread“…more

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