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Ike files voluntary safety report revealing details of autonomous truck operation

The company is the first to release a safety assessment before testing vehicles on public roads.

Image: Ike

Seeking to demonstrate its commitment to safety, self-driving truck company Ike has released a 90-page safety self-assessment report, providing a detailed description of how the startup programs and operates its autonomous vehicles. 

“Today [we are] releasing an unprecedented level of detail and transparency about our approach to product development, engineering and operations,” said CEO Alden Woodrow in a blog post announcing the report.

Woodrow said the company is releasing the document “because we believe that the public has a right to know as much as possible about what we’re doing, especially because our vehicles share the road with our friends, neighbors and our own families.”

Voluntary compliance

A growing number of autonomous vehicle companies are testing their vehicles in the public realm, and the federal government has asked established manufacturers and startups to voluntarily outline how they are developing and applying the technologies.

To date, 16 self-driving companies have submitted the safety reports, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In addition to Ford, GM and other automakers, autonomous trucking outfits TuSimple and Starsky Robotics have also filed documents describing their systems and approaches. 

In the blog post, published on October 10, and in an interview with FreightWaves, Woodrow drew a line in the sand between Ike’s report and those of its competitors, claiming Ike is the only company to have released a safety self-assessment before operating on public roads. 

The company does drive its automated truck prototypes manually on the highway, but only to collect data that is fed into a simulator that actually tests the technology. Ike also trials its system on test tracks.

“We are operating trucks equipped with our technology on the highway today,” Woodrow told FreightWaves. “The nuance is that we have not yet chosen to engage the system on public roads.” 

Among the features of the public filing are maps showing routes the trucks travel.

Woodrow cited two reasons why the startup has chosen not to activate the system in real world environments. “First, our systems-based development process and unique technology advantage mean we can make rapid progress without public road testing; and second, we hold ourselves to an incredibly high bar for system performance before we engage our system on the highway.”

AV companies: a reset

Ike’s slow and steady approach contrasts with other autonomous trucking companies touting their commercial partnerships hauling cargo on the highways.

Earlier this week, Silicon Valley startup partnered with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to measure its truck’s performance in tough winter conditions. 

Others, including Embark, TuSimple and Starsky Robotics, are all running automated trucks on public highways.

Ike’s strategy, which may have seemed perplexing a year ago, likely has more currency today, when self-driving companies are dialing back expectations about when the technology will be safe enough to hit the (public) road.

A few other self- driving companies are limiting their on-road test fleets. Aurora Innovation’s pilot projects, for example, consist of only a dozen or so vehicles.

In pursuit of transparency

Other issues covered by Ike’s report include how it trains operators (and “right seat” teammates to monitor and diagnose the system); an inventory of all vehicles in its fleet, along with license plate numbers and VINs; and a summary of its motor carrier compliance and safety record.

The safety document also describes Ike’s systems engineering-based approach to building a product. 

Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to [email protected]