Autonomous VehiclesNews

Tech pioneer Levandowski talks state of autonomous trucking at Transparency 2019

After a brief hiatus, technology pioneer Anthony Levandowski has reappeared on the autonomous vehicle scene, but has dialed back his initial vision for driverless trucks in favor of a new safety system designed to assist drivers behind the wheel.

Levandowski sat down with John Kingston, editor-at-large of FreightWaves, on May 6, to talk about the future of autonomous vehicle technology. He discussed his “change of heart” when it comes to driverless trucks in favor of drive-assist technology at Transparency 2019, a three-day freight technology event at the Georgia International Conference Center in Atlanta.

“We’ve made some great improvements in the last 10 years, but we’ve kind of hit the ceiling where it’s difficult to generalize circumstances that exist on the road and have computers be able to handle all of [possible issues] that happen,” he said.

His new company, Pronto AI, has developed a new aftermarket safety system called Copilot, which sells for around $5,000 per truck. Copilot is a camera-based software suite that controls braking, throttling and steering. It’s a Level 2 safety system, which is a far cry from the Level 5 technology he was pushing a few years ago that sought to completely remove drivers from behind the wheel of commercial trucks.

“From what I have learned in the last 15 years – some hard-learned lessons there – creating an evolutionary step where you are building a business that makes sense along the way is a lot better than trying to go for this mythical idea of having a truck with nobody in it,” Levandowski said.

He said he “imagines a world in the near future” where a safety system like Copilot will be “standard on every truck.”

“Let’s take the existing trucks that are on the road, add cameras and computers to them and now make them a lot safer and easier to drive,” Levandowski said. “You are not removing a driver there, but you are bridging the gap by making that truck safer.”

His career in autonomous technology has not been without controversy. Prior to starting Pronto, Levandowski also founded self-driving truck startup Otto, which was acquired by Uber back in 2016. He also formerly worked in Google’s self-driving division, which is now Waymo. Waymo and Uber settled a $245 million lawsuit over allegations that Uber stole trade secrets from Waymo.

Levandowski said he has received “mixed reactions” since returning to the autonomous driving space.

“There are clearly some people that are excited to see more building and are like, oh okay, this is totally something that you can deliver and ship on a timeframe that is realistic,” he said. “Some are bitter and that’s life and you have to move on.”

Pronto is currently working with selected existing Tier 1 manufacturers to build the hardware for the Copilot safety system. Trained technicians can retrofit the technology on existing trucks in about a day, Levandowski said.

“I am just really excited about what we are doing, which is actually shipping real products instead of talking about that and setting the vision for the future,” Levandowski said. “It’s great to support, but I am more of a shipping person than a visionary person.”


  1. I thought automatic shifting in trucks were bad enough. This inventor thinks it’s safer to make the operator less ingauged with the vehicle. Sounds like he lost his job at Boeing.

  2. I don’t understand why we’re wasting so much money trying to make autonomous trucks to run on already crowded roads. These would only make traveling worse. It would be SO much cheaper and easier, as well as safer, to apply it to railcars to improve delivery costs and times. A lot of the reasons that railroads are so slow, is because so much time is lost dropping off cars and picking up at rail heads. Smart railcars that could respond and direct themselves out to join the train and vis versa. Would cut times and cost immensely.

  3. I have seen this trick before he still wants driverless trucks but his co pilot system will be gathering data on driver responses and be learning from driver actions in different scenario, with 150,000 drivers providing data it wont be long before those drivers will have fully trained their replacement

  4. This the dumbest shit ever… im a driver and i don’t understand this completely… So you mean to tell me with the human behind the wheel of a semi truck is less valuable than a truck with cameras that will take more time processing a hazard ahead. You guys are wasting money on all this bs instead of making it more comfortable or bigger or affordable for the driver you making wats to make our job harder its not easier on us tf….Have any of yiu idiots ever driven a truck ???? You dont know what its like behind the wheel of a truck…i mean your going to put your trust in a computer that has to be updated constantly that will eventually fail and what if it kills a driver ???? Lawsuits for you making dumb ass ideas all that money and yall waste it on bullshit pathetic….

  5. I drive a tractor-trailer for a living. What is needed is a self-driving trailer. The tractor exists merely to accomodate the driver and the engine, largely. If the propulsion is situated under the trailer ( engines on each axle, say) stability would improve and if one of the engines malfunctioned , the other ones could complete the trip. The maneuverability would also be enhanced if each set of wheels were designed to turn like casters. Then the trailer could move sideways. If a door was placed on each end the trailer wouldn`t have to back up. Forward or backward would be all the same.l realize this development could eliminate my job, but l`m no Luddite. Technology marches on…

  6. Yes computer assisted technology caused an accident when it took over control of the vehicle I was driving and steered it into a tree. Stop the madness and invent something less intrusive or go get a real job at Circle K.

Clarissa Hawes

Clarissa has covered all aspects of the trucking industry for 14 years. She is an award-winning journalist known for her investigative and business reporting. Before joining FreightWaves, she wrote for Land Line Magazine and If you have a news tip or story idea, send her an email to