The startup company believes an aftermarket Level 2 solution will speed deployment and efficiencies in freight movement
In the past week, Daimler Trucks announced that it will begin selling a Level 2 autonomous truck to the U.S. market. That Cascadia model offers both steering and acceleration/deceleration control, giving the truck the ability to utilize both adaptive cruise control at all speeds along with active lane-assist technologies.
While the announcement of a Level 2 truck is exciting for many, it will take time for these vehicles to populate roadways. Even if every fleet in America turned over 20 percent of its equipment each year, it would take five full years for the entire vehicle population to include these features. And we know that not every fleet turns over that many trucks each year. In fact, the majority of trucks remain on the roadways for 10 years or more, opening a door to an aftermarket Level 2 solution.
Autobon AI, based in Lisle, IL, is one company hoping to fill that gap.
“If we want to get to zero accidents, someone has to address the aftermarket,” Krystian Gebis, co-founder and CEO, explained to FreightWaves at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week.
Gebis developed the idea for an aftermarket solution during his years at the University of Illinois. “As I was getting cut off by trucks driving to school, it became a very clear solution to me to automate trucks,” he said.
Gebis and Robert Waz, director of operations, both said the key to developing the product is that they are invested in the industry.
“We pride ourselves on not being a technology company but actually [a company that works with industry],” Waz said.
The company’s offices are located in a partner fleet’s building, giving them daily access and providing interaction with all levels of management, technicians and drivers.
To understand the problem further, Gebis acquired his CDL and drives the test vehicle hauling live loads. “It put into perspective how much more difficult the problem is to solve,” he said.
Driving also provides insight into what happens on the road, and provides daily interaction with customers, something that Waz said is important in building a solution the industry will utilize.
Gebis explained that he studied robotics at Illinois, building autonomous robots. One such robot finished second among 50 schools in a competition. Waz pointed out that Gebis’ robot was built with a budget of just $20,000, while the winning school, Alabama, had a $200,000 budget. That shows the ability to effectively use capital, Waz pointed out.
The system itself, described as “an aftermarket autopilot” system, is being designed for highway driving situations, but Gebis noted that it is also being designed to easily scale from a Level 2 system to a full Level 4 system with just software upgrades. It uses sensors and cameras right now, but as Lidar costs come down, that technology could be added as a “redundant system.”
It’s important to note that at this point, the driver must remain attentive to the vehicle, but as it transitions to a Level 4 vehicle, driver attentiveness will not be as required.
Installation takes about three hours, but progress is being made on cutting that time down while also simplifying it so a certified technician could install it.
Both men noted the potential benefits of the system, from more efficient engine operation to safety. Autobon AI said that using its system, which utilizes artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize engine functions such as throttle control, could result in up to 40 percent fewer accidents, 30 percent less fuel usage, 20 percent higher fleet efficiency and 200 percent higher vehicle efficiency.
“It’s also a way to attract the younger generations [to driving], which is a problem right now,” Gebis said.