Otto Co-Founder: Self-Driving Trucks Will Happen Gradually
Drivers Will Be “Co-Pilots” Initially, Still Needed for Urban Driving
The advent of self-driving vehicles is upon us, and stories are in the news seemingly every day. The subject seems to elicit strong and visceral opinions from people, either positively or negatively, depending on your perspective or vocation. The technology has the potential to be the most disruptive in the Class-8 heavy truck segment. Vocational truck driving is one of the largest job segments in many states and parts of the country. So are we going to see totally autonomous “robo trucks” put millions of truckers out of work overnight? According to Otto cofounder Lior Ron, not in the immediate future.
In an interview at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s EmTech Digital conference, Ron said automation will come in baby-steps, with the first step being to allow autonomous operation late at night or early morning -- when few people are on the road -- with the trucks acting more as “co-pilots” allowing the drivers to get some sleep for a few hours while the truck is on the highway in a sparsely populated area. Ron said there will be need for human drivers for urban areas for the foreseeable future, which are much more complex to maneuver in than highway driving.
Although there is more of an economic incentive for automation in the Class-8 segment than with passenger cars, there are also much larger technological challenges with automating trucking. Trucks’ larger size relative to cars gives them less “wiggle room” on roads than cars, and the weight and physics of trucks means they inherently react more slowly than cars in terms of acceleration, braking, and obstacle avoidance. Autonomous truck software also needs to take into account the different weight loads and distribution of trucks, which can affect performance and safety, Ron said. You can watch the interview video below, including a segment with a model car with a weighted trailer on a treadmill to demonstrate the effect of trailer weight on stability.
Source: MIT Technology Review