|Autonomous trucks did not garner as much attention as self-driving cars / Photo Credit: General photographer (via Shutterstock)|
California-based startup Plus.ai claimed to have completed a cross-country journey with a prototype autonomous truck, according to Stephen Edelstein of Digital Trends, a technology news, lifestyle, and information website. Plus.ai said the vehicle was in autonomous mode most of the time during the 2,800-mile trip. A human backup driver and a safety engineer were also onboard the truck. Interestingly, this wasn’t a test run as the truck transported a refrigerator trailer loaded with cargo for Land O’Lakes.
Perishable cargo gave the company an incentive to ensure that its technology worked. Plus.ai could not abort the trip and a human driver taking over the wheel would prove to be a public relations nightmare. The cross-country journey was completed in three days, which was enough for the cargo to be delivered on time, Plus.ai stated. In a way, the trip was made easier as the truck drove mostly on highways “between freight distribution hubs in Tulare, California, and Quakertown, Pennsylvania.” This guarantees that the truck would not have to navigate more complex environments such as city streets. The aforementioned distribution hubs are the startpoints and endpoints for freight hauls. Hence, Plus.ai’s cross-country trip could definitely serve as a template for future autonomous truck operations.
Plus.ai’s autonomous truck encountered various terrain and weather conditions such as rain and snow even though it stayed to mostly Interstate 15 and Interstate 70, the company claimed. Plus.ai added that the truck operated in both daylight and nighttime conditions. Like other autonomous vehicle developers, Plus.ai’s vehicles use a combination of radars, cameras, and lidar to let it “see” its environment. The sensor suite can detect objects up to 1,600 meters in front of a vehicle.
Plus.ai will likely implement its autonomous-driving system to trucks developed by an existing manufacturer. It hasn’t given a timeline yet, but the firm said it is collaborating with shippers, fleet operators, and truck manufacturers. Autonomous trucking didn’t initially gain as much attention as self-driving cars, but Plus.ai’s truck shows that it is catching up to the latter.