Commercial use the next frontier of driverless technology
May 20, 2016
While more and more companies are designing consumer-focused autonomous vehicles, Otto is one of the few exploring self-driving technologies for commercial use. Founded by a group of former Google engineers who worked on the tech giant’s autonomous vehicle program, Otto is developing a system to retrofit existing trucks to be able to drive themselves. The company emerged from stealth on Tuesday to announce it has already begun fully autonomous tests of its technology on highways in Nevada and California.
There are an estimated 4.3 million commercial trucks in the U.S., which together ship about 70% of the country’s cargo. Autonomous technology will help make these deliveries safer. Commercial trucks cause roughly 10% of U.S. highway fatalities. With a system that allows trucks to continue driving while the driver rests, which Otto aims to offer, goods can be delivered faster without putting other drivers at heightened risk.
Otto isn’t alone in developing technologies for self-driving trucks. Daimler (ETR: DAI) began testing last year, and Peloton Technology has raised funding from Nokia Growth Partners, Intel Capital and UPS Strategic Enterprise Fund for its vehicle-to-vehicle communications and active braking systems for heavy trucks. Consumer-facing driverless technologies get all the press, but commercial uses may end up having a larger market. What’s next, freight ships? Cargo planes? We’ll just have to wait and see.