Here at Cars of the Future we like to keep an eye on global self-driving media coverage – that’s how we find the hyperbolic headlines – so naturally we watched this Voice of America (VOA) news report:
In it, Cheng Lu, Advisor to TuSimple CEO Dr Xiaodi Hou, and Don Burnette, Co-Founder & CEO of Kodiak Robotics, go into bat for autonomous trucking, while Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and economic sociologist Steve Viscelli, author of The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream, provide cautionary commentary, if not overt opposition.
While Lu and Burnette sell the benefits and share their progress – we’ll come to that in a minute – Chase points out: “We’re the ones on the roads with these vehicles and the public right now is an unwitting participant in a very high tech science experiment.”
Viscelli adds: “I’d say all drivers are concerned about the future of those jobs. They’re not yet convinced of the potential for really upskilling your job.”
As an aside, here’s a fact: Voice of America is apparently the largest and oldest US-funded international broadcaster.
Anyway, with the US and UK apparently heading in opposite directions when it comes to describing the self-driving / driverless / autonomous / automated vehicle industry, the bit that caught our attention was “driver out”.
A quick visit to the TuSimple website reveals that it coined the term.
“TuSimple became the first and only company to autonomously operate heavy-duty trucks on open public roads with no humans in the vehicle, no remote control, and no human intervention of any kind,” it says. “TuSimple calls these, ‘Driver Out’ runs.”
Earlier this year, the California-based trucking company announced that Union Pacific Railroad will be the first to move freight on its fully automated trucking route between Tucson and Phoenix, following a test run on a similar route in December.
“At TuSimple, our mission is to automate certain routes that make the most sense to automate — and those are longhaul applications, the ones that have greater distance, a lot of repetition,” Lu told Transport Topics.
“It frees up valuable driver resources and valuable freight capacity to other parts of the logistics network — first-mile, last-mile, stuff it doesn’t make sense to automate.”
In March, the company posted this video to YouTube:
Titled “Advanced capabilities of driver out autonomous driving system”, it shows the TuSimple autonomous trucks changing lanes and carefully avoiding other vehicles, including motorcycles.
Meanwhile, on 12 May, Kodiak posted this video of its truck performing a staged “fallback”, autonomously pulling to the side of the road after a pre-planned wire-cut:
Kodiak has been delivering freight daily between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, operating autonomously on the highway section of the route, for over a year now.
Ten times each second, the company’s self-driving system evaluates the performance of more than 1,000 safety-critical processes and components in both the self-driving stack and the underlying truck platform.
“It’s essential that the self-driving technology powering an 80,000-pound semi-truck is capable of reacting swiftly and safely, no matter what happens,” said Burnette.
“Kodiak’s autonomous trucks are constantly monitoring themselves and preparing to pull over in case of a fault, just like a human would.
“Implementing a fallback system is a fundamental necessity to achieving that level of safety and we are the first autonomous trucking company to demonstrate this capability on public roads.
“We have integrated fallback technology into the Kodiak Driver’s architecture from the beginning – it would be incredibly hard to add this capability as an afterthought.”
Kodiak and TuSimple – both in the vanguard of the fast-growing self-driving freight industry, and therefore in the eye of the media storm – also appear to be in competition for the best ‘truck on a bridge’ photo.
We think TuSimple just edge it on that score, but the big self-driving winners are yet to be decided.