Technology Slowly Moves Toward Driverless Vehicles

Manufacturers combine their talents to deliver autonomous cars and trucks.

October 29, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—In the spring, the pandemic forced road tests of driverless cars to be postponed. But fuel retailers should be aware that development of autonomous vehicles is gearing up again, reports The New York Times.

Waymo, which is part of the same company as Google, recently expanded its driverless taxi service in Phoenix, without someone in the driver’s seat in case of emergency. General Motors’ driverless car company plans to remove the human monitors from its self-driving test cars in San Francisco, and Tesla has announced it will soon turn on software features that transform many of its cars on the road into driverless test vehicles.

Although it may be many years before driverless vehicles are reliable, affordable and in widespread use in all road and weather conditions, recent developments point to promise for driverless car technology.

“The optimist in me says things are only going to accelerate from here,” Oliver Cameron, CEO of Voyage, a driverless car company, said, but he hesitates to give a timeline, stating that one challenge facing this technology is that human drivers are fairly adept at handling circumstances they’ve never seen before. Computers are not.

Meanwhile, Daimler AG's commercial truck unit and Alphabet's Waymo have announced that they’ll collaborate developing self-driving Class 8 semi-trucks with a carrying capacity of 33,000 pounds, applying Waymo's automated system to Daimler's Freightliner Cascadia. According to Business Insider, the partnership accelerates a race to put automated heavy-duty trucks on the road.

John Krafcik, CEO, Waymo, said it will take time for major suppliers of Class 8 truck hardware to develop the braking, steering and other technology required to bring a fully automated semi to market in high volume. "These are super-long timelines," he said.

The agreement is a win for Waymo, which is bringing aboard more established vehicle makers, including U.S. truck maker PACCAR, whose brands include Peterbilt and Kenworth. Meanwhile, competitor Daimler Trucks North America, producer of Freightliner and Western Star, and rival PACCAR together control more than 70% of the U.S. Class 8 heavy truck sector, according to John Stark, editor of Stark's Truck & Off-Highway Ledger. Daimler and PACCAR will square off against Tesla, which plans to begin building its automated electric semi-truck next year at a new plant in Austin, Texas.

Other heavy truck makers planning to put automated vehicles into commercial service include Volkswagen AG's Traton, which is working with Argo of Pittsburgh, and is negotiating the acquisition of Illinois-based Navistar International Corp. Swedish truck maker Volvo AB is partnering with Silicon Valley chip maker Nvidia Corp in its autonomous truck efforts.

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