Aurora Innovation expects to begin running driverless trucks between Dallas and Houston by the end of 2024. It is the second autonomous truck software maker to declare it is nearly ready with a driver-out program.
Version 6.0 of the Aurora Driver system can recognize when a truck equipped with the software has been in an accident — such as a sideswipe — and pull over to the side of the road. It also can call a command center specialist to get instructions on how to proceed when extreme weather occurs.
“By designing the Aurora Driver to detect and respond to the unexpected now, we’re working to ensure it exceeds the rigorous safety, efficiency, and reliability standards of major carriers and fleets when we deploy commercially,” Sterling Anderson, Aurora co-founder and chief product officer, wrote in a blog post.
Completing the safety checklist
The two rare events wrap up Aurora’s “feature complete” menu. Aurora earlier worked out more common maneuvers like negotiating lane changes, construction zones and unprotected turns. It also solved for less common scenarios like scattered road debris and emergency vehicles.
All that remains is validation. Aurora expects to complete by the end of the year. It also is ramping up to hauling up to 100 safety driver-supervised pilot loads a week.
Rival TuSimple expects to begin driver-out commercial runs between Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona, in 2024. TuSimple has run driverless pilots on the route since December 2021.
“From day one, we made foundational technology investments and strategic decisions that have helped us reach this pivotal moment,” Chris Urmson, Aurora co-founder and CEO, said in a news release. “We are now positioned to close our Safety Case for launch, the final step to achieving Aurora Driver Ready later this year.”
Aurora partnerships help pave the way
Aurora partners with Paccar Inc., the parent of Kenworth and Peterbilt heavy-duty trucks, and with the Volvo Group. It integrates its software with purpose-built chassis that have redundant steering, braking and computing systems to stand in for a human driver.
“One of the things you have to do, even working with strong partners, is you have to demonstrate a degree of patience, and at the same time you have to optimize your ability to source parts and adapt,” Dave Maday, Aurora senior vice president of business development and product strategy, said during FreightWaves’ Global Supply Chain Week in February.
“Not everything is going to go great when you start. But having really deep collaboration with your OEM partners is the way to mitigate most of the risks and challenges,” he said.
By contrast, TuSimple is largely going it alone in moving to single route driverless truck commercialization. A 2½-year partnership with Navistar broke up in December.
Over the last 18 months, Aurora has released dozens of capabilities through six Aurora Driver Beta updates. They have incrementally increased the Aurora Driver’s autonomous performance, safety and reliability in pilot hauls for companies like FedEx, Werner Enterprises, Schneider and Uber Freight.