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Autonomous trucking company Plus drives faster transition to semi-autonomous trucks

This article is part of a VB Lab Insight series paid for by Plus.


Breaking away from the competition, Plus, a Silicon Valley-based provider of autonomous trucking technology, is taking an innovative driver-in approach to commercialization that aligns with the critical challenges facing the trucking industry today.

According to newly-released estimates of traffic fatalities in 2021, crashes involving at least one large truck increased 13% compared to the previous year.

With a nationwide truck driver shortage estimated at 80,000 last year and growing, PlusDrive, Plus’s market-ready supervised autonomous driving solution, helps long-haul operators reduce stress while improving safety for all road users.

First-to-market solution helps fleets today

In 2021 Plus achieved a critical industry milestone, becoming the first self-driving trucking technology company to deliver a commercial product to the hands of customers. Over the past year Plus has delivered units of PlusDrive to some of the world’s largest fleets and truck manufacturers.

These units are not demos or test systems. Shippers have installed the technology on their trucks and PlusDrive-equipped trucks with the shippers’ drivers are hauling commercial loads on public roads nationwide.

PlusDrive improves safety and driver comfort, and saves at least 10% in fuel expenses, addressing driver recruitment and retention while offsetting surging diesel prices and other costs tied to today’s volatile trucking market.

Plus’s first-to-market shipments and installations validate the progress the company has made in developing a safe, reliable driver-in technology solution for the long-haul trucking industry.

PlusDrive will reach more fleets this year as Plus continues to expand the close collaboration with customers pioneering the use of driver-in autonomous trucking technology for their heavy-duty truck operations.

Partnerships unlock commercial pathways for PlusDrive

Partnerships with industry stakeholders — from automotive suppliers to truck manufacturers and regulators — have been critical to Plus’s success, helping to unlock innovation and commercial pathways to deploy its technology globally. Its autonomous driving technology can be retrofitted on existing trucks or installed at the factory level. With Cummins and IVECO, Plus is also developing autonomous trucks powered by natural gas for the U.S. and Europe.

Building on the market penetration it has achieved already, Plus this month announced a collaboration with Velociti, a fleet technology solutions company, creating a nationwide installation and service network capable of delivering PlusDrive semi-autonomous trucks to customers within 12 hours. Maintenance services are also available nationwide by utilizing mobile resources to meet customers at their preferred location.

The program, known as Plus Build, equips Class 8 trucks with state-of-the-art lidar, radar and camera sensors and Plus’s proprietary autonomous driving software. 

With PlusDrive, truck drivers stay in the cabin to oversee the Level 4 technology, but they do not have to actively drive the vehicle. Instead, they can turn on PlusDrive to automatically drive the truck on highways in all traffic conditions, including staying centered in the lane, changing lanes and handling stop-and-go traffic. PlusDrive reduces driver stress and fatigue, providing a compelling recruitment and retention tool during a time of driver shortages.

Velociti’s nationwide installation and maintenance network will help get PlusDrive into the hands of more truck drivers across the country, making their jobs “safer, easier and better,” said Shawn Kerrigan, COO and co-founder of Plus.

“Plus Build helps companies unlock the benefits of autonomous driving technology today by quickly modernizing trucks to improve their safety and uptime.”

Drivers are on board for next-generation autonomous driving technology

Plus works closely with customers, drivers and industry partners to help them understand the advantages of PlusDrive. Their testimonials validate the key benefits of the system.

“I am an admitted cynic, and I was blown away,” said commercial vehicle and transportation industry analyst Ann Rundle, Vice President of ACT Research. After taking a demo ride of a PlusDrive-enabled truck at the recent Advanced Clean Transportation Expo, Rundle said, “It was so seamless. I suppose if I wasn’t watching the screen that indicated the system is ‘Engaged’ I might have wondered [if PlusDrive was indeed still doing the driving].”

A professional driver invited to test PlusDrive echoed those sentiments. “If I were to have a system like this in my truck,” he said, “it would make my job a whole lot smoother, easier and a lot less stressful.”

Another operator from a customer fleet praised PlusDrive for “reinforcing safety; just keep giving us these tools — it’s a tool to help us help the company.” 

PlusDrive keeps economy moving, safely

Startups competing for a slice of the self-driving trucking future are aligned on the long-term goal of getting fully driverless commercial trucks (with no safety drivers) on the road. But Plus stands out as the only company to release a product that enables fleets and drivers to benefit from automation today, when there is little sign of an end to the chaos and stress roiling the freight markets. Through its collaborative, considered approach to delivering its autonomous trucking technology as a commercial product now, Plus is maximizing benefits for fleets while making long-haul trucking safer and easier for the hard-working operators who keep the nation’s economy moving.


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Categories
AI

Gatik raises $9 million to winterize self-driving box trucks

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Gatik, a startup developing an autonomous vehicle stack for B2B short-haul logistics, today announced it has raised $9 million, with $1 million coming from a partnership with Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network (AVIN). Gatik says the AVIN collaboration — part of an Ontario government program providing R&D, business, technical, and talent support, as well as vehicle test tracks — will help it understand how inclement weather affects its vehicles’ movements

Some experts predict the pandemic will hasten adoption of autonomous vehicles for delivery. Self-driving cars, vans, and trucks promise to minimize the risk of spreading disease by limiting driver contact. This is particularly true with regard to short-haul freight, an estimated 30% of which takes place in snowy and icy conditions. The producer price index for local truckload carriage jumped 20.4% from July to August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most likely propelled by demand for short-haul distribution from warehouses and distribution centers to ecommerce fulfillment centers and stores.

Palo Alto, California-based Gatik, which has offices in Toronto, is the brainchild of Carnegie Mellon graduate and CEO Gautam Narang. He cofounded the company in 2017 with CTO Arjun Narang and chief engineer and former Ford computer vision lead Apeksha Kumavat.

Gatik’s platform taps level 4 autonomous vehicles (capable of operating with limited human input and oversight in specific conditions and locations, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers) to fulfill on-demand and scheduled deliveries up to a distance of 200 miles. Its retrofitted trucks and Ford Transit 350 vans and orchestration software, which the company has been testing on public roads in California since Q1 2018, promise to transport goods around cities more affordably.

Gatik

In November, Gatik announced a deal with Loblaw, Canada’s largest retailer with over 200,000 employees. For Loblaw, Gatik has been transporting “multi-temperature” goods and products from the retailer’s microfulfillment centers for inventory pooling across multiple locations, multiple times a day, to retail outposts across the Greater Toronto Area since January 2021. The program covers five routes operating 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

In July, Walmart revealed it had launched a pilot with Gatik to ferry customer orders between select store locations in Bentonville, Arkansas. Gatik’s vans transport items from a warehouse to neighborhood market stores along a two-mile route (or five-mile one-way route) in Bentonville. Each van makes up to 10 runs a day during daylight, with human backup operators behind the wheel.

More recently, Gatik received a $100,000 grant from PlanetM, a Michigan Economic Development Corporation program that seeks to fund solutions to pandemic-driven challenges in the state. In collaboration with an unnamed partner, referred to as “one of the state’s largest retailers,” Gatik says its autonomous trucks will operate on predetermined, fixed routes throughout Grand Rapids and Rochester.

Gatik says it will continue to target customers, such as third-party logistics providers (like FedEx, UPS, and USPS), consumer goods distributors, food and beverage distributors, medical and pharmaceutical distributors, and auto parts distributors, for the foreseeable future. The company has raised a total of over $38 million in venture capital.

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Categories
AI

Aurora partners with Paccar to develop driverless trucks

Self-driving startup Aurora today announced a partnership with Paccar to build and deploy autonomous trucks. It’s Aurora’s first commercial application in trucking, and the company says it will combine its engineering teams around an “accelerated development program” to create driverless-capable trucks starting with the Peterbilt 579 and the Kenworth T680.

Some experts predict the pandemic will hasten adoption of autonomous vehicles for delivery. Self-driving cars, vans, and trucks promise to minimize the risk of spreading disease by limiting driver contact. This is particularly true with regard to short-haul freight, which is experiencing a spike in volume during the outbreak. The producer price index for local truckload carriage jumped 20.4% from July to August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most likely propelled by demand for short-haul distribution from warehouses and distribution centers to ecommerce fulfillment centers and stores.

Aurora — which recently acquired Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, the ride-hailing company’s driverless vehicle division, reportedly for around $4 billion — says it will work with Paccar to create an “expansive” plan for future autonomous trucks. Aurora and Paccar plan to work closely on “all aspects of collaboration,” from component sourcing and vehicle technology enhancements to the integration of the Peterbilt and Kenworth vehicles with Aurora’s hardware, software, and operational services.

Aurora PacCar

Aurora will test and validate the driverless Peterbilt and Kenworth trucks at Paccar’s technical center in Mt. Vernon, Washington, as well as on public roads. The companies expect them to be deployed in North America within the next several years, during which time Paccar and Aurora will evaluate additional collaboration opportunities with Peterbilt, Kenworth, and DAF truck models and geographies.

Aurora, which was cofounded by Chris Urmson, one of the original leaders of the Google self-driving car project that became Waymo, has its sights set on freight delivery for now. In January, Aurora said that after a year of focusing on capabilities including merging, nudging, and unprotected left-hand turns, its autonomous system — the Aurora Driver, which has been integrated into six different types of vehicles to date, including sedans, SUVs, minivans, commercial vans, and freight trucks — can perform each seamlessly, “even in dense urban environments.” More recently, Aurora, which recently said it has over 1,600 employees, announced it will begin testing driverless vehicles, including semi trucks, in parts of Texas.

Last year, Aurora raised investments from Amazon and others totaling $600 million at a valuation of over $2 billion, a portion of which it spent to acquire lidar sensor startup Blackmore. (Lidar, a fixture on many autonomous vehicles designs, measures the distance to target objects by illuminating them with laser light and measuring the reflected pulses.) Now valued at $10 billion, Pittsburgh-based Aurora has committed to hiring more workers, with a specific focus on mid- to senior-level engineers in software and infrastructure, robotics, hardware, cloud, and firmware. The AGT purchase could grow the size of its workforce from around 600 to nearly 1,200, accounting for ATG’s roughly 1,200 employees.

Paccar, which was founded in 1905, is among the largest manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty trucks in the world. The company engages in the design, manufacture, and customer support of light-, medium- and heavy-duty trucks under the Kenworth, Peterbilt, Leyland Trucks, and DAF nameplates.

The value of goods transported as freight cargo in the U.S. was estimated to be about $50 billion each day in 2013. And the driverless truck market — which is anticipated to reach 6,700 units globally after totaling $54.23 billion in 2019 — stands to save the logistics and shipping industry $70 billion annually while boosting productivity by 30%. Besides promised cost savings, the growth of trucking automation has been driven by a shortage of drivers. In 2018, the American Trucking Associations estimated that 50,000 more truckers were needed to close the gap in the U.S., despite the sidelining of proposed U.S. Transportation Department screenings for sleep apnea.

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