Waymo launched the commercial phase of its robo-taxi service in Phoenix just last month, causing concerns regarding how quickly self-driving-vehicle technology will emerge into everyday life. Meanwhile, plans to turn heavy trucks and delivery vehicles autonomous are quickly accelerating, as the Consumer Electronics Show proved.
Daimler’s truck unit announced Monday at CES in Las Vegas, plans to spend $570 million and add 200 new jobs to assist in getting highly automated commercial vehicles to the market. The company will begin sales of a U.S. truck able to brake, accelerate and steer at all speeds on its own this year. By doing so, it’s also providing a steppingstone towards more automation as Internet shopping continues to grow, causing freight companies to struggle over driver shortages.
The truck will use a so-called “Level 4 capability,” meaning a human driver will not need to regain control of the truck under most conditions. The German powerhouse also introduced its new Freightliner Cascadia truck with semi-automated Level 2 capability, which allows the truck to handle a few basic driving functions to assist the human driver.
On the other hand, TuSimple, a San Diego-based startup that began hauling commercial loads in Arizona last year with its own Level 4 tech for Class-8 semis, said at CES that it’s fleet will expand to 40 “fully autonomous” trucks by June. TuSimple continued, stating that it’s now running up to five daily autonomous shipments in Arizona for 12 contracted customers, though these customers remain anonymous. The company also announced a new partnership with truck-engine maker Cummins to assist in integrating its technology better into semis.
“I’m absolutely convinced that the first large application of autonomous driving will be for commercial delivery vehicles,” Daniel Laury, CEO of Udelv, a San Francisco startup focused on small, robotic delivery vans, told Forbes.
Udelv announced a second-generation version of its small delivery vehicle, derived from a Ford Transit Connect van. It utilizes the latest iteration of Baidu’s Apollo self-driving software platform. Japanese trading company Marubeni also became an investor in Udelv, though Laury declined to disclose the amount. Additionally, the company will begin a pilot robotic delivery program with Walmart in suburban Phoenix next month, as Forbes reports.
“Autonomous cargo vans and trucks shall propel the growth of e-commerce over the next two decades. The market will rapidly grow to thousands of units,” Laury said.