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​​PlusDrive’s semi-autonomous capabilities improve safety, enhance driver comfort, optimize fuel economy

Heavy traffic tied to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles provided ideal conditions for showcasing the sophisticated capabilities of PlusDrive, a supervised autonomous trucking solution on display during ACT Expo, the nation’s premier transportation technology and clean fleet conference.

“We ran into trucks, containers and all kinds of traffic. We tested the merge and lane change features. They all worked well,” said one attendee who test drove a PlusDrive-equipped day cab during the three-day expo, held May 9-12 at the Long Beach Convention Center.

The 45-minute rides were primarily along I-710, a busy truck corridor that carries traffic between the Southern California ports and east Los Angeles.

“I’m an admitted cynic and was blown away” by the ride-along experience, said Ann Rundle, vice president at ACT Research, a data analytics and forecasting firm for the commercial vehicle and transportation markets. “It was so seamless. If I wasn’t watching the screen that indicated ‘engaged’ I might have wondered [if PlusDrive was indeed still doing the driving].” 

PlusDrive is a commercially available autonomous trucking solution already being operated by some of the world’s largest fleets. With PlusDrive, truck drivers stay in the cabin to oversee the system, but they do not have to actively drive the vehicle. Instead, they can turn on PlusDrive to automatically drive the truck on highways in all traffic conditions, including staying centered in the lane, changing lanes and handling stop-and-go traffic.

The technology improves safety, enhances driver comfort and saves at least 10% in fuel expenses.

Automation drives sustainability

More than 8,500 industry stakeholders attended ACT Expo, surpassing the previous year’s attendance by 3,000 people. Plus, the Silicon Valley-based developer of PlusDrive was the only autonomous trucking technology company to host ride-alongs at the conference, which facilitated conversation on the latest driverless and connected vehicle technologies.  

Diesel trucks equipped with PlusDrive already are seeing 10% fuel savings from the deployment of the technology today, said Plus co-founder and COO Shawn Kerrigan, who delivered remarks during an ACT panel, “Moving Autonomy from Pilot Projects and Demonstrations to Commercialization.” 

The efficiency and emissions reductions benefits will only increase as Plus works with partners such as Cummins and IVECO on natural-gas based autonomous trucks. PlusDrive technology can also be applied to electrified trucks.

Navigating cut-ins, stop-and-go traffic and merging vehicles

High-profile supply chain disruptions have worsened heavy traffic in and around the Port of Long Beach, one of America’s premier seaports and a trailblazer in goods movement and environmental stewardship. With more than 42,000 daily truck trips, I-710 is among the busiest freight corridors in California.

During the demo rides, the PlusDrive-equipped truck navigated countless complex scenarios, including multiple cut-ins by passenger vehicles and trucks, stop-and-go traffic and merges. The system handled the complex scenarios so effortlessly – for example, automatically moving over to create a safe space when another vehicle moved into the day cab’s lane – that demo guests asked repeatedly if the system was really still handling the driving.

Executives from OEMs, fleets, partners, regulators and trucking journalists as well as industry analysts, participated in the ride-alongs. Two guests with CDLs actually test drove the truck.

“This was my first time driving an autonomous truck,” said one guest. “I really like how simple and intuitive the system was. One thing I liked is it seems very conservative – it was accelerating slowly, so that can be a huge benefit for large-size fleets. It can also teach a new driver ways to be looking forward and looking at the trucks.”

Plus business model hinges on real-world data and driver feedback

Having drivers on the road providing real-world feedback on PlusDrive is critical to Plus’ business model, helping the company continue to develop new features that will improve the system.

During the panel discussion, Kerrigan described Plus’ unique, driver-in approach to commercializing autonomous driving technology: “One of our core beliefs is that in order to get to the point where you can release a driverless product at scale, you first have to be able to demonstrate that it can operate safely over the course of billions of miles. That’s in addition to all the work that you do regarding simulation and safety cases.

“With PlusDrive, Plus is both delivering on the promise of improving fuel economy, safety and driver comfort today and extending the coverage of that over the next several years.”

Kerrigan said one example of driver feedback involved “a really killer feature that we didn’t originally anticipate would be so powerful. The system can hold the lane so well and therefore on a windy day, the driver isn’t constantly fighting to keep the truck in its lane, which could be really tiring.”

Already delivering semi-autonomous trucks to fleets today

Plus has delivered PlusDrive units to the world’s largest fleets and manufacturers, and PlusDrive-equipped semi trucks are now hauling commercial loads nationwide. Plus recently announced a partnership with Velociti, a fleet technology solutions company, creating a nationwide installation and service network capable of delivering PlusDrive semi-autonomous trucks to customers within 12 hours.

“Having nationwide support for installation and maintenance of the PlusDrive system is really important if you go from the initial concept to having a product that’s out there and deployed,” Kerrigan explained. “You have to think through things like how you are going to handle training drivers, installation, support and service to the system, and how the system is going.” 

Plus will be offering ride-and-drives again at the ATA MCE event in San Diego and the FreightWaves Festival of Freight this fall.

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