Just three years ago, the media was all abuzz about how a brave new self-driving world was right around the corner.
Today, the media and industry analysts have slow-rolled their predictions as technology companies and automakers still grapple with developing autonomous driving systems that are ready for prime time on a large scale.
As it turns out, humans still have the edge in making decisions in a wide range of challenging driving situations that continue to hamper the robots.
But less hype does not necessarily mean a lack of momentum for vehicle automation. And self-driving technology developers and automakers have been making notable progress in recent months – especially in the heavy-duty truck segment.
For example, Navistar International Corp. and TuSimple, a global self-driving technology company, recently announced that the two companies have entered into a strategic partnership to co-develop SAE Level 4 self-driving International trucks targeted for production by 2024.
TuSimple currently operates a fleet of 40 self-driving trucks in the U.S., shipping freight autonomously for companies such as UPS and McLane Co. between Arizona and Texas. And the company plans to demonstrate completely driverless operations in 2021.
In January, autonomous vehicle technology company Aurora entered into a global strategic partnership with heavy-duty truck manufacturer PACCAR to produce driverless-capable trucks, starting with the Peterbilt 579 and the Kenworth T680. This announcement came a few weeks after Aurora said that the company is acquiring Uber’s self-driving unit, Advanced Technologies Group.
And last October, Daimler Trucks and Waymo, formerly known as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, signed a broad strategic partnership to deploy autonomous SAE Level 4 technology. Their initial effort will combine Waymo's automated driver technology with a unique version of Daimler's Freightliner Cascadia to enable autonomous driving.
No specific timetable for production has been set. The press statement reads, “The autonomous Freightliner Cascadia truck, equipped with the Waymo Driver, will be available to customers in the U.S. in the coming years.”
The bottom line: While robots may not entirely rule the road in the foreseeable future, you can expect autonomous systems to become advanced enough in the next few years to impact commercial fleets at some level – and ultimately change how the driver interacts with and operates the vehicle.
Sean M. Lyden