Self-driving car veterans say they believe in the technology enough to take their background with Google, Cruise Automation, and others over to an autonomous freight trucking startup.
Forty people who had previously worked for Google, Cruise Automation, Tesla, Apple, and other companies, have formed a new San Francisco-based company called Otto. Its goal is to transform commercial trucks into self-driving freight haulers.
Among the prominent executives are Anthony Levandowski from Google’s self-driving car team and former Google Maps head Lior Ron. Levandowski was considered an innovative leader in autonomous vehicles long before Google got into the game. He was the main focus of a feature article on a self-driving car project in The New Yorker several years ago.
Otto won’t be setting up a manufacturing plant to build its own self-driving trucks. Like Cruise Automation, Otto will offer hardware kits for existing trucks. The kits can be installed either by truck service centers, or at the factory if the company is able to forge manufacturer partnerships.
In its current phase, Otto will only be able to take over control of the truck on the highway. Drivers will need to take over and drive on city streets, and manage the loading and unloading of the truck.
For now, the Otto team is testing out its technology on the Volvo VNL 780. Otto executives hope to work with several Class 8 heavy-duty truck manufacturers.
Otto isn’t the first company in the market that’s attempted to roll out autonomous trucking. Daimler and Volvo Trucks have both demonstrated self-driving trucks in recent months, but Levandowski doesn’t sound worried about those efforts.
“I think the trucking folks are doing a great job, and eventually they would probably solve the problem,” Levandowski said. “But a company that is used to building trucks is not well structured to solve a technology problem.”