Many in the autonomous vehicle industry believe that self driving trucks will be the first to launch commercially. Driving on the interstate is relatively simple compared to an urban environment, but the challenge is getting from the pickup to the interstate and then to the drop off. Starsky Robotics thinks they may have the problem solved.
From an article in Forbes by Steve Banker.
When it comes to self-driving trucks, trucks that can tool down the highway without a human behind the wheel, the common perception is that this is a very complex technological problem. It is thought that solving the artificial intelligence problem, computer-based intelligence that can navigate roads as safely or more safely than a human, is a particularly hard nut to crack. Several pundits argue this technology is still probably ten years away. Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, the CEO of Starsky Robotics, begs to differ. “When it comes to safety engineering, in general, simpler is better.”
He may be right. In a technology arms race that has seen hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, and the participation of much larger and better-known technology companies, Starsky Robotics has gotten out of the gate first. Yet Starsky Robotics, a San Francisco startup building driverless trucks, has only been funded to the tune of $21.7 million.
On June 16, a Volvo semi-truck using Starsky technology did a 9.4-mile trip on the Florida Turnpike in Orlando. The unmanned truck with no human being on board successfully navigated through a highway rest area, merged onto the Turnpike, and changed lanes, while maintaining an average speed of 55 miles an hour.
Mr. Seltz-Axmacher believes that redundancy in sensors to promote safety is critical. But the more types of sensors involved, the more complicated the technology becomes. Starsky only relies on radar and cameras. When I expressed surprise that they were not using LIDAR, a sensor system that uses light from a laser in a similar way to the way in which radar uses electromagnetic waves, Mr. Seltz-Axmacher said “LIDAR! People have always questioned why we don’t use LIDAR. The answer is simple. Because we don’t need to.”
Starsky trucks will travel from distribution center to distribution center, on the highway as well as on the local roads to the warehouse.
How can they hope to do this without the kind of robust autonomous navigation being developed for off-highway usage? By using human drivers in control rooms connected to trucks over the cellular network. These remote human drivers will control the trucks from warehouse right up until the time the semi enters the highway and help safely navigate complex, context-heavy traffic environments.
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