An SF-based startup called Otto is aiming to let truck drivers take naps on the open highway while still being able to continue hauling their loads, via robot drivers. It's the brainchild of former Google self-driving car engineer Anthony Levandowski along with robotics expert Claire Delaunay and two other former Google employees, Lior Ron and Don Burnette, and as KRON 4 tells us, they see this as a way to make our roads safer by giving truck drivers more opportunity to rest.
For the time being, the aim is to have trucks that can drive themselves on highways, with human drivers taking over to navigate more complicated city streets, as the team explains in a Medium post introducing the company. "It’s time to rethink the way we move goods on the road," they write, citing one statistic about the safety record around the trucking industry: "While trucks drive just 5.6 percent of all U.S. miles, they’re at fault for nearly 9.5 percent of all driving fatalities: in recent years, on average, eight people die on the road due to truck accidents every day."
Currently, they already have a research fleet of trucks that are testing out their suite of software and sensors on highways. And, as The Verge reports, Levandowski and his team hope eventually to "bring this technology to every corner of the U.S. highway system."
There are probably more significant hurdles to that than with self-driving cars, which we can already see taking shape as game-changers in the taxi industry. As Steven Shladover, a program manager at the University of California’s Partners for Advanced Transportation Technology tells KRON 4, the more significant dangers that trucks pose on the road mean we're likely a long way off from convincing regulators that this technology is safe. "I don’t want to be on that highway when there is nobody there to take over a truck with 80,000 pounds of cargo and I don’t think I know anyone else who would want to be," he says. "The consequences of any kind of failure in any component would be too severe."
Below, the promo video for Otto, just released. Apologies in advance for our tongue-in-cheek use of the still from Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive, above.