It’s always uplifting to hear about technology being developed to help keep users safe.
That’s exactly what happened early this week, when tech company Otto released a self-driving kit engineered to improve the safety and efficiency of driving big rigs. The company has developed a myriad of sensors, software and other features meant to enhance the experience of driving an existing commercial truck.
Otto aims to continue to develop its truck as well as collect safety data that shows the benefits that its advancing technology could offer to the trucking industry and anyone who shares the road with big rigs. Its testing has occurred on three Volvo VNL 780 trucks that were outfitted with its semiautonomous software and driver-assist technology.
Otto was founded by Anthony Levandowski, a previous member of the engineers devoted to advancing Google’s autonomous vehicle program; Lior Ron, who once held the position of project lead for Google Maps; Don Burnette, and Clair Delaunay. Otto’s 40 person team consists of a heaping handful of Google employees as well as staffers with experience at other major tech companies like Tesla, HERE, Apple and Cruise.
The Otto founders are focused on alleviating some of the issues that plague the trucking industry and the world, namely issues revolving around safety and pollution. 4.3 million commercial trucks utilize the hundreds of thousands of miles of U.S. interstate highway that allow them to move 70 percent of all cargo in the United States. Trucks drive just over 6% of all miles driven in the United States, but they are responsible for almost 10% of all driving fatalities. According to Otto, every day eight people die because of an accident involving a cargo truck.
Cargo trucks also create 28% of road-based pollution despite making up only 1% of all vehicles on the road. Considering one in every seven trucks driving on the road is empty after having delivered its cargo, the system has plenty of room for improvement.
Add to these statistics that there is an increasingly dire shortage of drivers that is expected to triple in the next five years and it becomes clear that the truck driving industry is in dire need of some innovative solutions to its issues.
Otto may just be able to offer these solutions, especially since it has focused on creating aftermarket solutions as opposed to completely new, self-driving vehicles.
“Otto’s path is smart as it focuses on huge aftermarkets and at least initially on supporting the driver rather than replacing him,” stated principal analyst at Recon Analytics Roger Entner. “This allows companies that are interested in the technology to safely try the technology rather than go in with both feet… It has relatively little competition as other companies have focused on the automobile market.”
That said, Otto still has some major roadblocks to navigate before it can start installing its product willy-nilly.
“The biggest inhibitor for this concept is insurance coverage,” explained Paul Teich, principal analyst at Tirias Research. “Each installer must be educated, tested and certified; each install must be inspected and approved; and Otto needs to indemnify certified installs against lawsuits related to system capabilities, system integration and distributors’ installations,”