Daimler Truck, Torc work to commercialize autonomous trucks

By FleetOwner Staff, FleetOwner

In their third year of collaboration, Torc Robotics and Daimler Truck are working to commercialize the first scalable, profitable Level 4 autonomous truck that is aimed to help fleets improve their operations. Torc is testing the Level 4 trucks on public roads in Virginia, New Mexico, and Texas, with continued route expansion in the works.

Through the partnership, the two companies are pursuing a “focused, safety-oriented approach.” According to Peter Vaughan Schmidt, head of the autonomous technology group at Daimler Truck, introducing technology into an existing infrastructure, where human drivers will share the road with automated trucks, requires credibility and responsibility.

“As the inventor of the truck, Daimler Truck has many decades of experience in testing and validation of commercial vehicles,” Vaughan Schmidt said. “Nevertheless, to develop a safe autonomous Level 4 truck remains a complex task and resembles a marathon, not a sprint. Two years together with Torc Robotics, we have accomplished a lot, collaboratively pursuing a common goal of leading the logistics sector into the future and making road traffic safer for society.”

Daimler Truck and Torc formed their alliance when Daimler invested in a majority share in Torc in August 2019. Torc operates as an independent subsidiary and serves as the lead for autonomous system development, innovation, and testing with Daimler Truck’s internal self-driving truck efforts.

In addition to testing in other regions, Torc manages a fully operational test facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico, running multiple routes and shifts each day. Last year, Torc expanded on-road testing in the Southwest into Texas. Additional routes are planned and based on major freight haulage.

Torc CEO Michael Fleming described how Torc’s pure-play approach will work to generate trust among all parties. “We are concentrating on one OEM truck platform (Daimler Trucks North America’s Freightliner Cascadia), one business case (long-haul trucking), and one environment (U.S. interstate highways),” Fleming said. “Commercializing self-driving trucks is a very complex endeavor, and we are first solving the least complex use case, then expanding our product reach as the technical capabilities are proven. I am absolutely convinced that Torc will be the first company to develop a profitable, scalable product in the autonomous truck space. We move to the next level of complexity when we have proven our program.”

Meanwhile, Torc and Daimler Truck are building partnerships with other technology-forward companies.

“Part of our pure-play approach is to do what we do best and work with others who bring best-in-class solutions,” Fleming explained. “This helps us accelerate our development. This past year, Daimler announced a strategic partnership with Luminar for collaborative development of long-range, hi-fidelity lidar for autonomous trucking and Torc selected AWS as Torc’s preferred cloud provider for data handling.”

“Commercializing a self-driving truck is one of the most challenging engineering feats of our generation,” Fleming said. To accomplish this, Torc has been growing since partnering with Daimler Truck and has more than doubled its workforce. Torc has also added power players to its leadership team, with the addition of NASA safety expert John Marinaro as director of operational safety and testing, veteran tech strategist Eddie Amos as chief transformation officer, and technology marketer Jane Bailey as vice president of marketing and communications.

Daimler Trucks North America is working to reinvent the truck chassis to integrate with autonomous vehicle systems, adding redundancies for safety-critical components like steering, braking, and powernet.

The Torc team continues developing software, testing, and systems integration. According to the company, developing a vehicle capable of safely and reliably executing commands given by an autonomous driving system requires a fundamentally different approach. Safety-critical components must be designed to detect a failure and invoke redundancy to safely execute its maneuvers, Torc stated. Should any of the most relevant systems encounter a fault, the Level 4 system needs to be able to monitor, assess and deploy backup systems to safely control the truck, the company added.

Toyota banks on mobility technology for future growth

By Yurk Kageyama, AP

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese automaker Toyota is revving up acquisitions in mobility technology, adding Renovo Motors Inc., a Silicon Valley software developer, to its Woven Planet team, which is working on automated driving.

The addition, announced Tuesday, follows the purchase earlier this year of CARMERA Inc., a U.S. venture that specializes in sophisticated road mapping updates made cheaper and faster by using crowdsourced information obtained from millions of net-connected Toyota vehicles.

The company has not disclosed the value of either deal.

Renovo develops automotive operating systems, which Toyota Motor Corp. sees as essential for developing programmed vehicles so it can transition to what it calls “a mobility company” that includes more than just cars. Renovo means “new life” or “renew” in Latin.

Renovo’s data-management platform enables automakers to continuously learn from their vehicles, using a so-called “complete loop” approach, so vehicles can become safer and more reliable.

“In Woven Planet and Toyota, we’ve found partners committed to doing exactly what we have always wanted to do, on a global scale, and that’s a great feeling,” said Renovo Chief Executive Christopher Heiser.

Woven Planet, Toyota’s wholly owned subsidiary, earlier acquired San Francisco-based Lyft’s self-driving division Level 5. Chief Executive James Kuffner said more acquisitions may be coming.

“The big picture is Woven Planet creating a ‘dream team’ of software and vehicle engineering people globally to deliver the world’s programmable and safest mobility. That’s the context,” he told The Associated Press.

“Always as an executive, you are trying to balance the speed and the growth versus the focus and maintaining company culture. The larger you grow, the risk is that you slow down,” he said.

“We will keep growing, but we are going to be careful.”

Kuffner declined comment on an recent accident at the Paralympics Athletes Village in Tokyo, when a Toyota bus equipped with automated driving technology bumped into a Paralympian athlete and injured him. The accident is still under investigation and may be an example of the kinds of hurdles to be overcome before the technology can be widely used on public roads.

The bus isn’t approved for widespread use on public roads but was shuttling athletes and officials at the Village during the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. A human driver was on the vehicle as a safety precaution. President Akio Toyoda has apologized and promised improvements.

Major automakers are working on various driving technologies. Vehicles of electric car maker Tesla Inc. equipped with its Autopilot driver-assist system have been in several crashes, including fatal ones, in the U.S.

Some analysts say companies should avoid suggesting cars sold today with such technology can safely drive themselves.

Woven Planet, known previously as Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development, is working on technologies spanning “smart” cities, green energy and mobility solutions and robotics that are meant to eventually become consumer products, said Kuffner, who has worked on Google’s self-driving cars and robots at Boston Dynamics.

Freight Groups Press Biden Administration on AV Policy

By Eugene Mulero, Transport Topics

Freight stakeholders are calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation to proceed with implementing a regulatory framework for autonomous vehicle technology.

The groups, which include American Trucking Associations, point to potential economic and safety benefits linked to nationwide access to the technology’s applications.

“Implementing a federal [automated vehicles] framework that fosters the safe deployment of AVs can help the Biden administration to shepherd in a safer, more environmentally friendly and accessible transportation future,” the groups wrote the department in September.

“As the AV industry moves from research and development to deployment, we urge the department to use its authority to foster a pathway for near-term AV deployment. Providing for the widest range of deployment options in the near term will also help the department gather key data on the performance of AVs to inform permanent safety standards that are both practicable and effective,” the groups continued.

In reaching out to the administration, ATA was joined by:

• U.S. Chamber of Commerce

• Consumer Technology Association

• Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity

• Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets

• American Chemistry Council

• American Highway Users Alliance

• Automotive Service Association

• Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association

• National Association of Manufacturers

• Intelligent Transportation Society of America

The groups also pointed to improvements related to mobility access for individuals with disabilities and the elderly population, as well as residents in rural communities.

ATA President Chris Spear noted, “We need a national framework that fosters innovation, not a patchwork of potentially conflicting state and federal regulations to deliver on that promise.”

Administration officials have told federal lawmakers they intend to keep collaborating with freight and technology stakeholders on establishing a framework that assists with the technology’s mainstream deployment.

At a U.S. Senate hearing Sept. 22, Meera Joshi, nominated to lead the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, told lawmakers: ‘We’re embarking on that work now to stand up a regulatory framework for [autonomous vehicle] trucking so that safety is No. 1.”

She added, “There is room for innovation so that the crash prevention technology that [artificial intelligence] brings can benefit road users and there are accountability measures, so we understand critical things in an automated world.”

Earlier this year, Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) introduced the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution (SELF-DRIVE) Act. The bill seeks to create the regulatory landscape designed to assist agencies and industries with the deployment of autonomous vehicles.

“Self-driving cars have the potential to reduce traffic accidents and deaths, increase mobility and improve quality of life,” Latta said.

“Autonomous vehicle technology can protect millions of Americans, while at the same time, providing seniors and those living with disabilities a way to live their life outside of their homes,” he added. “In order for the United States to lead on this cutting-edge technology, we need a framework that allows industry to innovate while ensuring high safety standards. I urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to work with me on this bill to better ensure that all Americans are safer while on the road and have increased access to mobility.”

PTIO Joins 14 Associations in Urging US DOT to Expand Efforts to Advance Autonomous Vehicles

The Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity (PTIO), along with 14 other associations, sent a letter to Secretary Pete Buttigieg yesterday urging the Department to expand its efforts to achieve safe deployment of automated vehicles (AVs) in the United States.

PTIO supports innovation in the transportation sector and policies that facilitate AV deployment as the technology will save lives, create jobs, expand the US economy, and improve access to mobility for communities across the country.  As an organization committed to preparing workers for an AV future, PTIO knows a federal framework allowing the technology to flourish in the US is key to preserving America’s role as a leader in the globally competitive AV ecosystem, and cementing US leadership is important for our workforce and the economy in general.

“As you told Congress at your confirmation hearing, U.S. policy has not kept pace with technology development,” the coalition wrote, pointing to Buttigieg’s remarks when his nomination was before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. “Other countries are racing ahead to capture this new industry, set its standards, and become the home of AV development and manufacturing.”

The letter also emphasizes that efforts to mitigate or remove regulatory barriers to the deployment of AVs in the U.S. should “continue and, to the extent possible, be accelerated.”

“Currently, there is much uncertainty as to how the Department intends to regulate AV technology in the near term as updates to existing motor vehicle safety standards are developed and finalized. As the AV industry moves from research and development to deployment, we urge the Department to use its authority to foster a pathway for near-term AV deployment.”

The letter was sent by the following associations: The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, Chamber Technology Engagement Center, American Trucking Associations, Consumer Technology Association, Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity, Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, American Chemistry Council Plastics Division, American Highway Users Alliance, Automotive Service Association, Intelligent Transportation Society of America, Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association, National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, Securing America’s Future Energy, and Telecommunications Industry Association.


About PTIO

Launched in June 2018, PTIO is led by its members at the American Trucking Associations, Daimler, FedEx, Ford, Lyft, Toyota Motor North America, UPS, Waymo, May Mobility, and Locomation — leading companies and associations that are working together with government, educators, and other stakeholders to examine the opportunities and challenges of AV deployment and identify policies and programs that ensure our entire workforce can benefit from the adoption of AV technology.  For more information, visit www.ouravfuture.org.

Eastern Michigan University to launch autonomous shuttle service on campus

By Meredith Bruckner, WDIV via ClickOnDetroit

YPSILANTI, Mich. – Eastern Michigan University’s GameAbove College of Engineering and Technology will be deploying autonomous shuttles on campus this year and will be opening a new space at the American Center for Mobility for research and development.

EMU will deploy two Olli autonomous shuttles manufactured by Local Motors later this year.

“These projects represent a dynamic step forward for the University,” Eastern Michigan University President James Smith said in a release. “Having our students engaged and active in the world of autonomous vehicles, and the research that takes place on our campus and at the American Center for Mobility, will give them a distinct advantage as they pursue their future careers.

“It is important to acknowledge the ongoing contribution of the GameAbove alumni group and its support of projects such as these. I am truly thankful for GameAbove’s involvement.”

“In order to remain a top tier engineering and technology college, commitments like these are necessary,” dean of the GameAbove College of Engineering and Technology Mohamad Qatu said in a release. “Not only will the Ollis enable our students to receive hands on experience working with autonomous vehicles, but they will also provide transportation for the greater campus community.

“The space at ACM offers a world class facility that will bring us closer to companies working on autonomous vehicles and cybersecurity. This agreement will help to further establish EMU as a major educational institution on autonomous and connected vehicles.”

One of the Eagle Shuttles will be on display this evening outside Rynearson Stadium as EMU kicks off its first football game of the 2021 season.

The self-driving, low-speed, electric vehicles will transport students and faculty around campus and to locations within the community. Planned shuttle routes will be shared during the school year.

“This partnership is important to showing the utility and capability of Ollis,” CEO of Local Motors Jay Rogers said in a release. “The project with EMU will focus on how autonomous solutions, like Olli, connect people with safe transportation alternatives and present new learning opportunities. This kind of deployment, on and around campus, is an ideal setting for Olli.”

EMU’s new vehicle lab at ACM will focus on autonomous vehicle cybersecurity research. The partnership will also help to secure grants and projects with leaders in the industry and help support an incoming Senior Research Engineer position.

“The vision has always been to leverage ACM’s smart mobility test center for research, education and workforce development,” President and CEO of ACM Reuben Sarkar said in a release. “ACM is excited to have EMU be the first university to set up residency here, offering exponential benefits and academic opportunities through immersion into a real-world test center, working alongside industry professionals.”

GameAbove is a group of EMU alumni and supporters that have funded numerous initiatives across campus. This includes the new research position at ACM and a new partnership between EMU and Perrone Robotics for three senior projects.

“We are always looking at new opportunities to help EMU enhance what they provide to students,” Senior Vice President of Operations for CapStone Holdings Ashley Beal said in a release. “The research position will help advance EMU’s commitment to innovation, while connecting the university with Perrone will broaden the experience EMU offers its students.”

Ohio State University Working To Make Our Robotaxis Safer

By Zachary Shahan, CleanTechnica

The 2010s was the decade of EVs — as far as establishing their arrival and competitiveness. The 2020s is the decade of AVs (autonomous vehicles). This is not guaranteed yet, but it has looked like this would be the case for at least the past 5 years. As much as an autonomous vehicle future sounds exciting, fun, exhilarating even, it also comes with some risk and fear. Bad guys might learn to hack robotaxis — deep tech hacking or crude hacking like a back-alley thief uses after observing patterns of behavior. Some people may find ways to trick or override cameras and then commit crimes of various types in or around robotaxis. So, with all of that in mind, we need “white hat hackers” to look for flaws in the AV systems and work to fix or improve them.

Ohio State University intends to be a center of such research. Unsurprisingly, NVIDIA tech will be used in the program, and this news comes to us through NVIDIA. “Autonomous vehicles require extensive development and testing for safe widespread deployment,” NVIDIA shares. “A team at The Ohio State Center for Automotive Research (CAR) is building a Mobility Cyber Range (MCR) — a dedicated platform for cybersecurity testing — in a self-driving car. Researchers and students will rigorously test the platform to identify potential safety and security issues as well as use it to educate a new generation of AV developers.”

Apparently taking some cues from Waymo, the program is using Chrysler Pacifica minivans. These are strolling the streets with level 4 autonomous driving capability via the NVIDIA DRIVE AGX Pegasus AI compute platform. The program, dubbed “CyberCAR” (which is seemingly trying to rope Tesla into the fun as well), “will initially focus on establishing standards and recommendations for best practices in AV safety and cybersecurity.” Though, it’s also doing useful work outside of the research. The autonomous minivans have already been used to “transport organs for emergency transplant surgeries.” Students are also learning AI compute tech through CyberCAR (through the CyberCARs?).

“We are aiming to generate a workforce that understands these safety and security challenges, as well as one that is familiar with the DRIVE platform and equipped with the right AV skill set for success,” said Qadeer Ahmed, associate professor of research at the Departments of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering, and associate fellow of CAR.

“Ahmed said the team plans to learn as much as they can from building the autonomous vehicle itself, then research the safety and security of individual modules, such as perception, planning and actuation.

“This work will be used to inform industry best practices and standards to help ensure the successful widespread deployment of autonomous vehicle technology.”

NVIDIA is clearly a global leader in compute hardware, and increasingly in autonomous driving hardware and software. Even Tesla uses NVIDIA hardware in the Dojo supercomputer it is building. Earlier this year, I spoke with NVIDIA’s automotive lead, Danny Shapiro, about the various auto companies it has been partnering with, the variety of depth in its partnerships, and what’s next in the autonomous driving industry. If you missed that, check it out here.