Driverless software developer Plus is still convinced it will take billions of safety driver-monitored autonomous driving before it can remove the driver from the equation.
But, under the right circumstances, it is possible to go driverless now.
Plus in late June completed a 20-mile driverless demonstration drive on the newly built Wufengshan highway in China’s Jiangsu Province near Shanghai. The startup videotaped the steering wheel moving and the unoccupied cab along with aerial shots of lane changes and other autonomous maneuvers involving no teleoperation or other human involvement.
Drivers were notified that a driverless truck would be among them, but they were expected to behave normally.
Not its first driver-out demo
Plus showed a driverless Level 4 heavy truck operation at China’s Qingdao port in April 2018. It expects to launch pilot operations of a fully driverless truck for use in a dedicated environment in 2022. Production of First Auto Works trucks with the PlusDrive system begins this quarter in China.
“This is consistent with what we have been saying about doing driver out. You cannot safely do this at scale without billions of miles of road experience,” Plus CEO David Liu told FreightWaves.
“There’s a huge difference between a limited run demo versus a commercial product that needs to be operated at scale and be significantly safer than a human driver in the case of all the real-world events that can happen out there,” he said.
Software validation, hardware redundancy and a regulatory framework are needed before commercial Level 4 driving is realistic. Plus has said that means 8 billion miles of real-world safety driver-monitored driving, which it expects to have completed by 2024, in addition to 10 times as many miles of simulated driving.
The Plus demo trumped the timing of a driver-out pilot that rival TuSimple (NASDAQ: TSP) plans in the fourth quarter in Arizona.
“TuSimple has been talking about a driverless pilot for years now. This really doesn’t have anything to do with TuSimple’s pilot,” Liu said. “We’ve been doing driverless pilots since 2018 and this event has been planned for about a year now. The local government selected us to showcase our technology and demonstrate driverless L4 capability.”
Being able to show the future of autonomous driving could help attract customers. Plus is retrofitting some Amazon trucks in the U.S. with the PlusDrive system repackaged to run as a Level 2 semi-autonomous system.
“This demonstrates that we have a high level of confidence in the maturity and reliability of our system,” Liu said. “I hope this type of pilot would also infuse more confidence in our customers.”
Could a U.S. driverless pilot be in the offing?
“To the extent that we can do that in the U.S., we will plan something along that line,” he said. “But we’re not just doing a pilot for PR.”