Hackernoon logoStarsky Robotics: Driverless Trucks that Don’t Leave Drivers in the Dust by@stefan_66577

Starsky Robotics: Driverless Trucks that Don’t Leave Drivers in the Dust

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@stefan_66577Stefan Seltz-Axmacher

Today, for the first time publicly, I’m very excited to announce that Starsky Robotics has been working to make driverless trucks a reality since September 2015.

On February 3, 2017 one of our trucks hauled a 5000-lb load 140 miles, and drove itself for 120 of those miles.

In August 2016, another truck outfitted with our system, driverlessly moved trailers around a truck yard for money. Outside of mining vehicles, we think that makes us the first company to do driverless work for money.

that makes us the first company to do driverless work for money.

We’ve been able to do this so quickly because we’re not technology purists and are working with truck drivers, not against them. Equipped with our system, trucks will be fully autonomous on the highway but remote-controlled off of it. This allows us to reap the safety and efficiency benefits of driverless trucks, while giving drivers meaningful work closer to home.

“Truck Driving is the most dangerous job in America”

Safety is incredibly important to us. 4000 people die each year in truck accidents because drivers are often forced to choose between driving safely and providing for their families, which contributes to truck driving being the most dangerous job in America. It doesn’t need to be this way: we want to give experienced truckers the lifestyle of local drivers with the pay of long-haul team drivers.

Drivers don’t only risk their lives; they risk their connection to their families and communities. Out of economic necessity many drivers see their families just a few days a month, a strain on their partners and their kids. Remote drivers are more productive because they can pilot multiple trucks. That allows us to pay drivers generously while allowing them to go home nightly. Many drivers are lucky to get to talk to their kids on the phone, ours will get to coach their soccer teams.

“The status quo holds too high a human cost”

We need to move fast because the status quo holds too high a human cost. If we wait for far- off technologies to become real or for fickle strategic partnerships to materialize, too many people will be hurt on American roads — Which is why we’re building this technology without relying on any technology not scalably or commercially available. We aren’t hacking into the data port of one specific truck nor are we relying on underdeveloped technology, like LIDAR.

It’s telling that the only autonomous company truly in market isn’t using LIDAR. While LIDAR’s promise is great, we think that waiting for its development is a moral hazard. Our highway autonomy relies on computer vision, radar and software. These are technologies that are well understood and allow us to quickly start saving lives on the road.

From an integration perspective, we aren’t compromising trucks’ existing systems by hacking into them. Instead, we’ve built a retrofit kit to actuate the physical controls of the truck but don’t hinder the capacity of our safety drivers to take control. Our system physically pushes the pedals, turns the steering wheel, and changes gear. Our focus on long-haul driving gives our system almost the same functionality as a driver with way greater availability.

Which is important because the core problem in North American logistics is rather straightforward. It’s really, really hard to get a human being to spend a month at a time in a truck. That’s why truck driver turnover is over 100%/yr and there’s a shortage of 50,000 drivers. Any technology that requires a human physically get into a truck doesn’t solve the problem.

We are solving this problem and moving freight on the highway this month was the first step. We’ll begin regular service in the next few months, and we plan to remove safety drivers from certain vehicles by the end of the year.

We’re on to something big and are starting regular service

We think we’re on to something big, are starting regular service in the coming months and have been able to put together a great team. We’ve raised $3.75m from Y-Combinator, Sam Altman, Trucks VC, Data Collective and many others; have a network trucking, regulatory, startup, and technical experts advising us; and now have 11 people on our team. But building driverless trucks is non-trivial, and we need help.

We’re going to change a $700b industry which contributes 15% to the cost of everything. Check out our website for areas we particularly need help in, and send us an email if none are a perfect fit.

Keepin’ on Truckin’

-Stefan & Kartik


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