Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

With Driverless Big Rigs, Ex-Employees One-Up Google's Self-Driving Cars

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

With Driverless Big Rigs, Ex-Employees One-Up Google's Self-Driving Cars

Article excerpt

A company created by former Google employees is working to introduce driverless trucks to highways around the country, taking self-driving technology even beyond the tech giant's push for the widespread use of self-driving passenger cars.

Former Google autonomous car technical lead Anthony Levandowski and fellow ex-Google leaders Don Burnette, Claire Delaunay, and Lior Ron co-founded Otto, a startup which aims to equip existing commercial trucks with self-driving technology.

"As a technologist, I believe there will be no technology more transformative over the next decade than self driving cars," Mr. Ron wrote in a Google+ blog post on Tuesday. "The future is almost here, but it is time to accelerate it."

"Our goal is to make trucks drive as humanly as possible, but with the reliability of machines," Mr. Levandowski said, according to the Associated Press.

Self-driving technology has already spread from cars to other modes of transportation abroad, including experiments with buses in the Netherlands and trains in India. And driverless 18-wheelers are not a new concept, either; Daimler Trucks' Inspiration self-driving semi and Mercedes-Benz's Actos truck equipped with its Highway Autopilot system were both demonstrated in 2015, although they have yet to be widely available or approved by regulators.

The Otto team, however, hopes to bring self-driving tech to trucks that have already hit the roads, instead of building new rigs from scratch.

The quartet of ex-Googlers founded Otto in order to reduce what they call the "unacceptable number of fatalities" - 9.5 percent of driving deaths - caused by truck drivers and alleviating the "gradual decline in quality of life" truckers have experienced as their industry changes. Human drivers could rest while the truck drives automatically for brief stretches, for example.

The country's more than 3 million truck drivers, however, may worry that the bigger threat to their "quality of life" is some day being entirely replaced by automated "drivers. …

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