Fifteen former Google engineers, including long-time self-driving pioneer Anthony Levandowski, have left the company to create Otto, a start-up based on bringing partial autonomous driving to big-rig trucks.
As the NYT notes, the start-up has great creds: Levandowski designed a self-driving motorcycle while still a grad student, and his first start-up was acquired by Google. Co-founder Lior Ron was previously lead engineer on Google Maps.
Otto’s plan differs from Google’s self-driving car project in two ways …
First, The Verge reports that Otto aims to retrofit the kit to existing vehicles, rather than manufacture new ones. Second, the system only facilitates autonomous driving on highways.
Otto would at least initially focus on highway driving, which account for the overwhelming majority of a typical truck route; the human drivers would still handle surface streets, loading, unloading, and the like. Right now, the company is testing with the Volvo VNL 780, but hopes to work with many so-called Class 8 trucks, which are the largest, heaviest trucks on American roads.
The company can’t yet say how much it will cost, but does say that it will be a ‘small fraction’ of the typical $100k plus cost of a truck.