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Self-driving trucks are almost here (with video)

Plus completed a commercial freight cross-country trip using an autonomous truck last December

Plus COO Shawn Kerrigan joined FreightWaves CEO Craig Fuller on a special episode of Fuller Speed Ahead Thursday as part of FreightWaves LIVE @HOME.

Self-driving truck company Plus is focused on applying autonomous technology to the commercial freight market, said co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Shawn Kerrigan.

“We think that there is a tremendous potential in the autonomous vehicle space to improve safety, reduce costs, reduce CO2 emissions and just drive overall economic efficiency,” Kerrigan said.

Kerrigan joined FreightWaves CEO Craig Fuller on a special episode of Fuller Speed Ahead Thursday as part of FreightWaves LIVE @HOME. The topic was “The Path to Safe Deployment of Autonomous Trucks.” 

Fuller said autonomous trucks have the potential to change the freight transportation industry and the overall economy.

“It’s certainly a massive opportunity for innovation, solving a lot of issues around safety, it could solve a lot of issues around emissions and certainly can improve a lot of how our economy and society operates,” Fuller said. “I think a lot of folks in the industry are optimistic about what autonomous vehicles can do. Hopefully the technology can be proven to a point where we can start seeing them on the road.”

Cupertino, California-based Plus was founded in 2016 by Kerrigan and several other entrepreneurs. The company has developed its own advanced autonomous driving system to enable large-scale autonomous commercial freight transport.

In September 2019, Plus announced a partnership with Chinese truck maker FAW Jiefang to develop autonomous trucks for China. The production-class Level 2 semi-autonomous truck will be built on Plus’ Level 4 autonomous technology stack.

“Our first product will be launching in China next year,” Kerrigan said. “While we’re a California-based company, we’ve taken a global perspective to the rollout of this technology.” 

The Society of Automotive Engineers defines six levels of driving automation ranging from zero (fully manual) to 5 (fully autonomous). These levels have been adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

Fuller asked Kerrigan when will “a Level 5 (full driving automation), truly driverless vehicle be able to go on our nation’s highways?”

Kerrigan pointed to the year 2024 as the soonest possible date when we could see Level 4 autonomous vehicles on the road. Level 4 is considered to be fully autonomous driving, although a human driver can still request control, and the vehicle still has a cockpit.

Last December, Plus completed a commercial freight cross-country trip using a Level 4 autonomous truck, which finished a 2,800-mile-run from California to Pennsylvania for Land O’Lakes in three days. A licensed driver and safety engineer were on board for the trip.

“It’s a function of when the original equipment manufacturers are ready and the Tier 1 components you need are ready and the regulatory pieces are ready and so on,” Kerrigan said. “So there’s a lot of different things that need to line up for that to happen. But I think that the types of time frames that we’re seeing is probably around 2024 to start to see some initial operation in Level 4.”

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1998. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas. Contact [email protected]