TuSimple and Waymo are in the lead in the emerging sector of autonomous trucking; TuSimple founder Xiaodi Hou and Waymo trucking head Boris Sofman had an in-depth discussion of their industry and the tech they’re building at TC Mobility 2020. Interestingly, while they’re solving the same problems, they have very different backgrounds and approaches.
From an article in Tech Crunch by Devon Coldeway.
Hou and Sofman started out by talking about why they were pursuing the trucking market in the first place. (Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.)
“The market is massive; I think in the United States, $700-$800 billion a year is spent on the trucking industry. It’s continuing to grow every single year,” said Sofman, who joined Waymo from Anki last year to lead the effort in freight. “And there’s a huge shortage of drivers today, which is only going to increase over the next period of time. It’s just such a clear need. But it’s not going to be overnight — there’s still a really long tail of challenges that you can’t avoid. So the way we talk about it is the things that are hardest are just different.”
“It’s really the cost and reward analysis, thinking about building the operating system,” said Hou. “The cost is the number of features that you develop, and the reward is basically how many miles are you driving — you charge on a per mile basis. From that cost-reward analysis, trucking is simply the natural way to go for us. The total number of issues that you need to solve is probably 10 times less, but maybe, you know, five times harder.”
“It’s really hard to quantify those numbers, though,” he concluded, “but you get my point.”
The two also discussed the complexity of creating a perceptual framework good enough to drive with.
“Even if you have perfect knowledge of the world, you have to predict what other objects and agents are going to do in that environment, and then make a decision yourself and the combination knows is very challenging,” said Sofman.
“What’s really helped us is a realization from the car side of the of the company many, many years ago that in order to help us solve this problem in the easiest way possible, and facilitate the challenges downstream, we had to create our own sensors,” he continued. “And so we have our own lidar, our own radar, our own cameras, and they have incredibly unique properties that were custom designed through five generations of hardware that try to really lean into the kind of most challenging situations that you just can’t avoid on the road.”
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