Highways in Texas and some other states may start to look like a scene from “Maximum Overdrive” if three startup companies have their way this year.
Aurora Innovation Inc., Kodiak Robotics Inc. and Gatik AI Inc. are planning to put completely driverless trucks on the road by the en of the year, according to Bloomberg Law.
The trucks, which have been in testing for years and use cameras, radar, sophisticated software and other technologies to find their way, have already made successful deliveries for companies such as Walmart and FedEx.
And unlike the ones in the 1986 horror film by Stephen King (side note: if you haven’t seen “Maximum Overdrive,” don’t bother), these trucks will improve highway safety, at least according to company officials.
“At the end of the year, we anticipate getting to the point where we begin operating those trucks without drivers on board,” Chris Urmson, co-founder and CEO of Aurora, told Boomberg Law.
Some say the move to completely driverless trucks is financially motivated, but the companies insist that’s only part of the equation and that their vehicles will improve safety on the roads over the longterm.
“All of the companies say they’re ready to deploy the technology, though they know there’s little-to-no margin for error,” Bloomberg Law reported.
“The risk is worth it, they say, because the technology promises to improve highway safety and lower transportation costs.”
One of the reasons why driverless trucks might be less dangerous than they appear, according to the companies, is that they drive mostly on highways, avoiding pedestrian traffic, and often follow the same fixed routes repeatedly.
Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, disagreed.
“We are concerned about the lack of regulation, the lack of transparency, the lack of comprehensive data collection,” she told Bloomberg Law.
Others who opposed the move to completely autonomous trucking included, unsurprisingly, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the union that represents 1.3 million drivers and others, some of whom would likely be put out of work by the new technology.
Little federal regulation around driverless trucks has been created in recent years, so startups like Aurora must abide by what Bloomberg Law called a “patchwork of rules” enacted at the state level.
However, one rule the trucks would be able to avoid, potentially at significant cost savings to shipping companies, is the 11-hour driving limit for human drivers, as machines obviously don’t tire in the same way that humans do.
“There are even estimated savings on emissions of 10% or more because the vehicles will stay just below the speed limit and travel at a steady cadence, the companies say,” according to Bloomberg Law.
So far, no driverless trucks have been implicated in any “at-fault accidents,” the outlet reported. Although so-called “safety drivers” have been aboard in tests run till now, the companies consider this a good sign.
But that’s only theory, Brian Ossenbeck, a transportation industry analyst with JPMorgan Chase, told Bloomberg Law.
“They can’t just say we’re better than humans,” Ossenbeck said. “They have to reach that superhuman level, at least initially, until there’s broader acceptance.
“And who knows how long that would take,” he added.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.