By Kelron Greenhalgh, Transport Topics
Torc Robotics and C.R. England are teaming up on a pilot program that leverages the refrigerated carrier’s temperature-controlled loads and the self-driving-vehicle technology company’s Level 4 autonomous trucks, they said in a May 9 statement.
This will be one of many collaborations, Torc CEO Peter Vaughan Schmidt told Transport Topics on May 12. Torc, independent subsidiary of Daimler Truck AG, wants to ensure it has insight into all the relevant subsegments of trucking. Autonomous vehicles can provide a lot of value to Torc’s customers and society as a whole, Schmidt said.
The program is Torc’s second announced U.S. carrier pilot. Initial planning for the C.R. England partnership will begin in the middle of the year, with on-road tests soon after, Torc said.
Joanna Buttler, head of the autonomous technology group at Daimler Truck, said in the statement that the arrangement will bring the parent company of Freightliner and Western Star closer to its goal of commercializing and implementing autonomous trucking within the decade.
“By adding autonomous lanes to our network, we can expand our customer offerings and create more structured jobs for drivers at both ends of autonomous runs,” C.R, England CEO Chad England said. “Torc’s deep integration with Daimler Truck makes our two organizations a perfect fit for piloting this new technology,” C.R. England’s refrigerated operations represent an important trucking segment, Schmidt said, adding that the opportunities for using self-driving vehicles in the sector were substantial, particularly in terms of hours of service.
The partnership will help Torc learn a lot about C.R. England’s processes, Schmidt said. Torc needs to understand what goes on with refrigerated trucks, including the loading of the trailer, and must move on from using concrete blocks as the load, he said.
C.R. England’s commitment to safety offered a great overlap, he said. The I-40 southwest corridor is the starting point for Torc’s first generation product. That highway is ideal for autonomous trucks, with favorable weather conditions and long stretches of road, Schmidt said.
The benefits of autonomous trucks tend to be centered on safety and operating costs, said Jim Lowell, vice president of technology at predictive analytics specialist Uptake. Trucking companies’ overall safety score should improve as a result of the implementation of autonomous trucking, likewise fuel optimization, he said May 12, adding that autonomous vehicles could be more consistent.
The focus on safety cannot be overemphasized, Lowell said, because if an autonomous car crashes, then the manufacturer is liable, whereas if an autonomous truck strikes something, then the original equipment manufacturer and the trucking company are liable.
Autonomous trucking is set to provide as much as 20 times more data for operators, Lowell said. Uptake specializes in helping companies optimize their operations through data analysis.
More data is the foundation of expanding artificial intelligence use. Torc recently acquired Canadian developer Algolux for its intellectual property and expertise in computer vision and machine learning.
The self-driving market is expanding fast. Autonomous truck developer Kodiak Robotics unveiled a battery-electric Class 8 truck at the 2023 Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in early May. Other self-driving truck developers combining autonomous driving and electrification include Einride and Nikola Corp.
Kodiak said it plans to incorporate the zero-emission truck into its test fleet next year, joining the automated diesel-powered trucks the company already is operating on U.S. highways. The Peterbilt Model 579EV, designed for shorthaul and drayage applications, has a range of up to 150 miles. The vehicle’s batteries can be recharged in as little as three hours.