In the past week two new players have arrived in the autonomous truck market, one with a revolutionary new concept that gives ‘autonomous’ a whole new meaning and could see drivers operating vehicles from their desk rather than a cab.
Currently Otto (established in 2016 and subsequently acquired by Uber) and Embark, which unveiled its self-driving truck technology last week, both feature sophisticated LiDar systems optimised to navigate the US interstate system, but still need a human in the driver’s seat to navigate surface roads.
This week Starsky Robotics joined the mix, but with a twist. The company has a dual approach: Use software, radar, and computer vision cameras to allow long haul trucks to drive autonomously on the highway, and then turn the job over to a trained ‘driver’ using a remote control to bring the truck from the exit to its final destination.
The company, which was co-founded by Kartik Tiwari and Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, has developed an aftermarket retrofit kit that includes robotics controls that can physically push the pedals, turn the steering wheel, and change gear. The office-based remote drivers can take control of the trucks at any time.
For the immediate future, Seltz-Axmacher says the company plans to continue testing with a driver at the wheel, but there are plans to take drivers out of the truck by the end of the year.
Last month, Starsky Robotics successfully moved a 5,000-pound [2267kg] load of empty milk crates about 120 miles [193 kms] with the truck driving autonomously about 85% of the time.
You can view a video of the trip here: