Plus.ai, the Silicon Valley-based self-driving truck technology startup, announced on Tuesday an agreement with the Transportation Research Center (TRC) to test Plus.ai’s self-driving system using real-world scenarios involving more than one vehicle.
“We believe an independent party should validate a self-driving system’s road readiness using realistic, complex scenarios, much like humans have to pass driving tests in order to be licensed,” said Shawn Kerrigan, COO and co-founder, Plus.ai, in a press release.
In addition to simulated tests, most autonomous trucking companies are testing trucks equipped with safety drivers on the road.
The tests Plus.ai is conducting at TRC are derived from existing passenger car crash test standards in the U.S. and Europe, with a focus on the testing of crash avoidance features, Kerrigan told FreightWaves. “This is because there is no current standard for testing of heavy vehicles for the self-driving features that Plus.ai is developing.”
Many of the tests are “safety-critical,” he said, and should be completed in a closed-course environment.
TRC, North America’s largest independent vehicle test facility, tests and refines new products for automotive and technology companies.
Safety benchmarks for autonomous trucking
Among the tests Plus.ai’s driving system will have to undergo are predictions of how multiple vehicles react to each other, a metric that allows it to plan a safe way to control the truck in response. This is a “rigorous” benchmark for the perception, prediction and planning systems, the company said, involving aspects that would not be tested in a single-vehicle approach.
Testing scenarios will include highway driving in free-flowing and stop-and-go traffic, construction zones, and encounters with disabled vehicles and bicycles. They will take into account varying weather conditions and a range of visibility and lighting.
Safety has emerged as a top priority for autonomous vehicle companies seeking to assure regulators and the public that self-driving cars and trucks will be able to operate safely on public roadways. Last month the self-driving trucking company Kodiak Robotics joined 19 other AV companies in releasing a voluntary safety self-assessment report explaining how the company operates its vehicles.
Plus.ai’s TRC testing is the first phase of a more comprehensive and ongoing test program aimed at ensuring the startup’s self-driving system is safe and validated for commercialization, the company said.
The TRC announcement comes amid what appears to be a new spurt of activity among autonomous vehicle companies following a relatively quiet period this spring tied to the coronavirus pandemic and moderate investor enthusiasm for technology investment.
Last week, reports surfaced stating that Plus.ai was in talks to raise $60 million in new investment. (The company declined to comment on the speculation.)
Earlier this month self-driving trucking company TuSimple announced a partnership with leading truck maker Navistar, establishing the U.S.- and China-based startup as a preferred autonomous supplier for the original equipment manufacturer. Navistar also took an undisclosed stake in the company.
On Monday self-driving startup Aurora Innovation announced it will start testing autonomous Class 8 trucks from Peterbilt Motors and Chrysler Pacifica minivans in Texas in the next few weeks.