Robotic Tractor Trailer Vehicles

One of the most common causes of tractor trailer crashes is driver fatigue. It is difficult for big rig drivers not to experience certain levels of tiredness, especially after being on the road for hours and days at a time. In an effort to solve this safety concern, as well as possible issues with driver shortages in the future, a new driving technology has been introduced that many are hesitant to accept.

Otto, a self-driving technology for commercial trucks based in San Francisco, is operated by former Google employees. The goal of Otto is to equip tractor trailers on highways across the nation with autonomous capabilities – or the ability to operate without a human driver. Otto employees believe that self-driving technologies will improve highway safety, as 9.5% of all fatalities are caused by trucks. Co-founder Lior Ron, who worked for Google Maps previously, had this to say about Otto’s technology:

“Because of federal regulations, a truck can only drive 11 hours a day today with a single driver. After 10 hours, the accident rate goes exponentially higher. If we can make it drive safely 24/7, more than doubling its capacity and utilization, that’s a very strong financial argument.”

Instead of creating new trucks equipped with this technology, Otto aims to install the self-driving equipment on existing big rigs currently navigating roads throughout the U.S. One of the founders, Anthony Levandowski, is credited with building the first self-driving car at Google. This allowed for expertise that many others would not possess.

In the four months since the company started, three tractor trailers have already had the automated technology installed. The first public highway extended test occurred last weekend in Nevada. The next step is to find 1,000 truck drivers that will offer their vehicles for a free self-driving kit installation on their trucks. The drivers would have to remain in the driver’s seat during testing, just in case something goes wrong and they have to take control of the vehicles.

The ultimate goal of self-driving trucks, much like autonomous passenger vehicles, is to improve reliability to that of a machine while operating in a human-like manner. After all, if this technology succeeds it will provide commercial drivers with time to sleep, do paperwork, and relax while traveling. This would therefore extend their overall time able to travel at once.