Otto Startup Aims to Automate Commercial Trucking

Otto autonomous truck conversion kit

There’s been a lot of discussion about autonomous vehicles in the press over the last few years. We covered the earliest attempts at the technology here on Driveline Blog more than 10 years ago — see my post on DARPA’s robotic challenge from way back in 2006 — and the pace of development has been astounding. While passenger-car based efforts like Google’s self-driving vehicle program have been getting the bulk of media coverage, serious development work has been done by a variety of companies on automating tractor trailers.

Autonomous passenger cars may be a sexier topic, but the reality is that autonomous vehicle technology could have much greater impact when used with semi tractor trailers and other large truck-based transport vehicles. Now Otto, a startup filled with employees from Google, Tesla, Apple, and several auto manufacturers, aims to revolutionize commercial trucking by offering a $30K kit that can turn existing “dumb” trucks into partially-autonomous vehicles.

Otto co-founders Anthony Levandowski and Lior Ron write about their goals for the company in a post on the Otto blog, mentioning that while only 1% of vehicles on America’s roadways are commercial trucks, they make up 28% of road-based pollution. More sobering statistics about the existing state of commercial trucking include accidents and fatalities, which Levandowski and Ron provide a more detailed snapshot of:

“While trucks drive just 5.6 percent of all U.S. miles, they’re at fault for nearly 9.5 percent of all driving fatalities: in recent years, on average, eight people die on the road due to truck accidents every day.”

Otto is currently testing the kit on a variety of trucks and driving situations, and recently “…completed an autonomous demo of the technology on a public highway.” Otto intends to keep refining their work and hope to eventually “…bring this technology to every corner of the U.S. highway system.”

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