Imagine you are driving on a highway late at night when a big-rig truck closes in behind you. You relax because it is keeping a safe distance and seems to be obeying the speed limit. Now imagine that truck is driving itself. Despite Silicon Valley’s enthusiasm for selfdriving cars, it could be years before there are many of them on the road. But autonomous 18-wheelers?
One start-up is betting that is a different matter.
That start-up is Otto, led by 15 former Google employees, including eight engineers. Among its staff members are major figures from Google’s self-driving car and maps projects, and it is aiming at the long-haul freeway driving that is the bread and butter of the commercial trucking industry.
Adding self-driving technology — at least as it stands now — into regular passenger cars could make them absurdly expensive for anyone without the cash of a Silicon Valley mogul. Until recently, the laser sensor used on the Google car project cost $75,000.
Those costs are coming down, but it will be some time before they have a realistic price for consumers. But a new, big tractor-trailer truck can easily cost more than $150,000, so the added cost of robotic features could make more sense.
In addition, it could make trucking more efficient, allowing, for example, a human driver to rest in the sleeper cabin while the truck takes the wheel. It will take a very long time to transition three million people, referring to the number of truck
drivers in the United States. However, its also the nature of progress. There used to be elevator operators in New York City.