Self-driving tech startup Otto wants truckers to keep on…napping

Founded by Google and Tesla vets, new long-haul trucking tech startup Otto wants to truckers to take it easy — but hopefully not the point of the sound of their own wheels driving them crazy.

The firm is building unique sensors, vehicle hardware, and state-of-the-art self-driving software that, when combined, offers a safe, scalable self-driving solution for the highway. The sensors  – camera, radar, lasers – sit high on top of the truck, offering an elevated vantage point of the highway. The in-truck computer system and software make realtime driving decisions based on those sensors, which then control the truck.

See also: How about a self-driving highway – from Canada to Mexico?

Self-driving trucks aren’t really new; plenty of firms are working on the same challenges.

Mercedes Benz has already begun testing its long-haul trucks in Germany and Nevada. Volvo – the makers of Otto’s three-truck fleet of VNL 780’s – and Volkswagen have also started testing autonomous trucks in Europe, with Volkswagen’s managing over 2,000 kilometers without a human taking over the controls.

But while these truck makers are looking to future models to roll out this technology, Otto’s aim is to go after the existing fleet, retrofitting trucks on the road already with their system.

Their real goal to to reduce road accidents involving truckers — an industry notorious for long hours, bad lifestyles and high turnover rates – and to let these newly relabeled “truck attendants” watch movies or read books instead of constantly watching the road.

In the US, about 2.6 million long-haul – or Class 8 – trucks are on the roads, driven by 1.7 million drivers. Otto says they had over 200,000 accidents in 2014, killing nearly 3,000 people.

Otto price not yet set

Founded in January this year and based in San Francisco, the company currently has 40 employees who’ve come from a “who’s who” of self-driving car tech developers – Tesla, Apple, Google and Cruise to name a few. The firm currently runs its test fleet on California highways.

To date, they’ve been financed entirely via employee and founder capital.

The technology is currently in its testing phase so there is no price tag as of yet. But with the average big rig running up to $200,000, team Otto expects their technology to cost truck owners a “small fraction” of that.

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