Semi Trucks Could Drive Themselves Very Soon
The noise surrounding autonomous driving on the nation’s roadways just went from a subdued buzz to a deafening roar. New startup company Otto, founded by former employees of Google, Apple, Tesla, and Cruze Automation stepped forward this week to unveil the work they have done to make semi trucks, the most essential vehicles for moving goods around this country, mostly self driving.
The most exciting thing about this technology is that it can be retrofitted to any semi from the 2013 model year or later. The technology takes over control of the truck and forces it to maintain a lane, cruise at a set speed, and slow and stop if needed. Drivers on the highways will be happy that the system is designed to slow down behind the car or truck in front of it instead of passing, avoiding those terrible situations on two-lane roads where two slow semis (but one moving marginally faster than the other) block the road and slow traffic.
While the current technology and government regulations require a driver to still be in the truck, the ability to leave the wheel to sleep in the states that allow automated driving could eliminate the need for a secondary driver on long hauls. Otto’s device would cost about $30,000, and the company is aiming to attract drivers that own their own trucks, because the system would help them keep more of what they earn if they don’t have to have another driver with them, and autonomous driving would allow them to deliver faster and have more loads in the same amount of time.
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Of course, if Otto eventually makes the trucks completely autonomous, the jobs of three million truck drivers could be in jeopardy. The sad reality is that if Otto doesn’t do it, any one of the other automakers racing to make self-driving cars will. In the past, Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski has said that it is simply the march of progress, and “There used to be elevator operators in New York City and there are not anymore.”
With human error one of the deadliest variables on the road, autonomous driving could lead to fewer automotive deaths in this country. But will industries and our government allow the technology to be moved from passenger cars to semi trucking and eliminate that many jobs? Autonomous driving in every form has many hurdles to clear before that could be a reality, but the future is knocking and we have to decide what to do.
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