Seemingly every week an autonomous vehicle company announces a new pilot testing its technology in real-world conditions. But for the most part, the test sites have been in warm weather states, with Texas, Arizona, Florida and California ranking among the favorites.
On Oct. 8 autonomous trucking outfit Plus.ai decided to brave the cold. The 4-year-old startup, headquartered in Cupertino, California, announced a partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to test its technology on the agency’s MnROAD cold-weather pavement testing facility in Albertville.
The collaboration marks Plus.ai’s first partnership with a state DOT. It will include information sharing around self-driving truck performance in tough winter conditions in order to inform public policy discussions.
“Commercializing Plus.ai’s self-driving trucks requires preparing them to drive in all climates, including the toughest winter road conditions that Minnesota experiences,” said Shawn Kerrigan, COO and co-founder of Plus.ai, in a news release.
“We are thrilled with this public-private partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to test and harden our autonomous trucks for extreme weather, as well as to support public policy and infrastructure considerations that pave the way for self-driving trucks,” Kerrigan said.
Minnesota is a hot spot for cold-weather vehicle testing. Now the state will bring its expertise to the self-driving sector, where inclement weather performance has long been a bugaboo. Many systems fail even with the slightest dusting of snow.
Plus.ai testing will begin with mapping the MnROAD closed test track, followed by performance testing of the startup’s self-driving trucks.
“As automation and emerging transportation technology evolve, the Minnesota Department of Transportation understands how critical it is to collaboratively share information and expertise with partners like Plus.ai,” said Kristin White, executive director of MnDOT’s Office of Connected and Automated Vehicles, in the statement.
“Learning how these vehicles operate in winter weather helps Minnesota advance safety innovation for everyone in the transportation system.”
Founded in 2016 by a group of Stanford classmates, Plus.ai is one of a handful of autonomous trucking startups seeking to automate long-haul trucking. The company has operations in California and China and has been testing vehicles in both countries.