Autonomous-trucking start-up Otto, founded by ex-Googlers has launched retrofit-ready self-driving truck

A group of former Google engineers have launched a new San Francisco-based company called Otto to bring self-driving trucks to the road. The start-up has been founded by four ex-Google engineers, which includes self-driving-car expert Anthony Levandowski and former Google Maps lead Lior Ron along with a team of more than a dozen former Google engineers as well as a team with experience at companies like Tesla and Apple. Otto aims to automate current commercial semis with its proprietary $30,000 kit, which retrofits trucks made after 2013 with self-driving technology.

In its release, the startup said, “Otto’s aim is to solve the harder and more important self­driving challenge first by introducing the technology to the highways and making trucks fully autonomous.” Its tech includes sensors, hardware and software that can be retrofit onto current trucks to grant them full autonomy to drive more safely and efficiently, with the driver acting as more of a supervisor.

“At the heart of our vision is the belief that self-driving tech is the key for creating a more sustainable, productive—and above all, safer—transportation future,” wrote Levandowski and Ron in a blog post.

Otto is trying to make trucking safer by letting drivers take breaks to sleep in the truck’s cabin while the automated technology takes over. The company is testing its kit with the Volvo VNL 780 on California highways, since that’s where most trucking routes are. The company is hoping to work with many so-called Class 8 trucks, which are the largest, heaviest trucks on American roads.

Going forward, “We intend to enhance the capabilities of the Otto truck, collect safety data to demonstrate its benefits, and bring this technology to every corner of the US highway system,” Levandowski and Ron said.

“This is a critical effort, with wide-reaching implications for all of us, that requires cooperation between government agencies, the private sector, truck fleets, drivers, manufacturers and the brightest engineers,” they added.

The company, which is completely self-funded, has yet to raise external funding. “We intend to enhance the capabilities of the Otto truck, collect safety data to demonstrate its benefits, and bring this technology to every corner of the U.S. highway system,” Otto’s co-founders wrote.

Also, the company has not yet provided any information as to when this technology would be available, and how much would it cost. Only it has been said that its autonomous-driving kit would “cost only a small fraction” of a truck’s MSRP, which could be $100,000 to $300,000.

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