I don’t know if I should be frightened or enthusiastic about this news. The Wall Street Journal reports that driverless trucks may be on the horizon. With the trucking industry struggling to find drivers, regulations on labor squeezing profits, some artificial-intelligence experts see an opportunity to automate big rigs.
I don’t know about you, but it is going to take some getting used to a massive big-rig hauling down the highway at 70 MPH without a driver. but should it happen, you are talking about a profound change. The opportunity not only for truckers, but for businesses would be transformative.
Embark and fellow startups Starsky Robotics and Drive.ai all emerged in the past week with details about their plans. Their engineers, bearing top artificial-intelligence pedigrees, are seeking a way to replace drivers in commercial fleets.
The idea seemed novel a year ago when Anthony Levandowski quit as a founder of Google’s self-driving-car project—now known as Waymo at Alphabet—to found Otto, a company focused on self-driving semi-trucks. Major manufacturers such as Daimler AG and Volvo AB had been working on the technology, but Mr. Levandowski brought a Silicon Valley swagger. One of his early stunts was transporting a trailer of Budweiser in Colorado.
Uber quickly acquired Otto in a deal valued at as much as $680 million. Last week, Waymo filed a lawsuit accusing Uber of using trade secrets allegedly taken by Mr. Levandowski and other former Waymo employees to design a laser sensor used for navigation. Uber said it would review the matter carefully.
“This is a crazy, competitive space and there’s a lot of money on the line,” Starsky co-founder Stefan Seltz-Axmacher said. “One of our investors said it as, ‘We have the opportunity to build intergenerational wealth.’”
San Francisco-based Starsky, which has raised $3.75 million, aims to work with freight companies by year-end to test trucks without human occupants on highways in states such as Michigan, Nevada or Florida. In the coming months, the company plans to conduct self-driving tests with humans on board, similar to the way Waymo has conducted more than 2.5 million miles of testing on public streets. But Starsky wants to start hauling real loads so it can collect revenue.
Read more here.