Daimler Trucks, in partnership with autonomous vehicle and robotics fintech Torc Robotics will be developing and testing autonomous trucks with SAE level 4 technology on public roads following months of testing and safety validation on a closed loop track, the company announced.
At level 4 autonomy, the system, called “Asimov,” performs the entire driving task, but only in suitable scenarios. It disengages when the driver takes over, according to a mobility podcast produced by Daimler Trucks. By comparison, a vehicle with SAE level 5 technology would be able to drive with full automation.
Testing will take place on highways outside of Blacksburg, Va., where Torc Robotics is headquartered. The trucks will be manned by a “highly trained safety driver certified by Daimler Trucks and Torc Robotics,” and an engineer overseeing the systems, the release said. “Asimov” has already been tested in urban and long-distance routes, as well as rain, fog, and varying light conditions.
In tandem with the start of testing, Daimler Trucks also announced the ink is dry on its acquisition of the majority stake of Torc Robotics, a process that began back in March. Torc Robotics will be part of a newly established Autonomous Technology Group of Daimler Trucks.
Looking forward, Portland, Ore.-based Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) — a segment of the Autonomous Technology Group — will be focused on producing a chassis “perfectly suited for highly automated driving,” with a focus on system redundancies. DTNA will also focus on building out the infrastructure for the operational testing, including a main control center and logistical hubs located along dense freight corridors.
Driving on highways is a much simpler process than driving in urban environments, said Michael Fleming, chief executive of Torc Robotics, in a Sept. 4 podcast. In addition, geography factors into the complexity of the problem. “We’ve tested in 20 different states, and one of the things we find is that while the environment’s much more ‘cluttered,’ one of the big differences we found is that the social driving behaviors in one city will be very different than in another city,” he said.
For instance, Las Vegas is one of the more challenging cities for testing because of its large tourist base, Fleming said. “You have different drivers from different regions converging together in one location, as opposed to just one Las Vegas driving style,” he added.
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