Ex-Google Employees Are Developing Self-Driving Trucks

A group of former Google employees have founded Otto, a company dedicated to making self-driving trucks a reality.

Anthony Levandowski, Lior Ron, Don Burnette, and Claire Delaunay all used to work at Google before forming Otto. The aim of the company is to “rethink” the commercial trucking industry.

Commercial trucking industry ripe for disruption

Levandowski used to work on Google’s self-driving car technology, and Ron was involved with Google Maps and Motorola. The pair wrote a Medium post explaining that trucks account for 28% of road pollution in the U.S., despite representing 1% of traffic.

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They say that commercial trucks are responsible for a high proportion of road deaths, are inefficient, and companies are struggling to find drivers. The founders of Otto believe that this is the perfect situation for their company to enter the market.

In the beginning the company offered tools to help drivers be safer, but now Otto is working on ways of automating highway driving. While other companies work on new self-driving vehicles, Otto believes it can add its autonomous technology to existing vehicles.

Otto plans to revolutionize trucking

The company says that it won’t eradicate drivers, but assist them. One such function is the ability to take a nap, safe in the knowledge that the truck can drive itself.

One public highway demo has already been completed, but Otto has bigger ambitions.

“We intend to enhance the capabilities of the Otto truck, collect safety data to demonstrate its benefits, and bring this technology to every corner of the U.S. highway system,” Levandowski and Lior wrote.

Plenty of Otto’s 40-strong team used to work at Google, while others were formerly at Tesla, HERE, Apple, Cruise and other automobile companies. Until its unveiling on Tuesday the company flew relatively under the radar, to the extent that many staff members had not changed their LinkedIn profiles to reflect their new roles.

Research into self-driving vehicles continues apace

Many questions remain about Otto, not least who is bankrolling the company. The company also looks set to provoke some interesting reactions from other companies involved in researching self-driving technology.

Apple is apparently working on a secretive Apple Car, which involves hundreds of staff. There is also the Faraday Future, which has attracted significant investment from Chinese investors.

Google is also working on self-driving technology, and the link between the tech giant and Otto is an interesting one. Could we see Google make a takeover bid for a company formed by former staff members?

Other companies such as Uber are also looking into autonomous driving technology, and it looks like self-driving vehicles will be part of our future. Until now attention has focused largely on cars rather than trucks, but Otto is one of a small number of companies trying to revolutionize commercial trucking.

In April this year a platoon of self-driving trucks made it across Europe, making a journey from Sweden to the Netherlands. The idea of platooning trucks in columns is to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions, while improving safety.

Several truck manufacturers, including Daimler Trucks, DAF Trucks, Iveco, Volvo, MAN Truck & Bus and Scania, were involved in the project. While these companies are developing new trucks from scratch, Otto is going down a different route.

Either way it looks like commercial trucking could be the next area that is disrupted by new technology.