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A “unique” Freightliner Cascadia equipped with a scaled version of Waymo’s automated-driver technology will be tested first by customers in the U.S. (Daimler Trucks)

Strategic partnerships target SAE Level-4 trucks

The latest autonomous-truck partnership sees Daimler Trucks and Waymo joining forces to develop L4 trucks, following the recent Traton and TuSimple team-up.

The parade of strategic partnerships in the autonomous-trucking space continues with Daimler Trucks and Waymo teaming to develop SAE Level-4 trucks. The Oct. 27 announcement follows Navistar and then Traton, which agreed to acquire the remainder of Navistar for $3.7 billion in mid-October, partnering with San Diego-based TuSimple on L4 technology deployment.

The initial effort involves a “unique version” of Daimler’s Freightliner Cascadia being equipped with a scaled version of Waymo’s automated-driver technology, which has been developed and refined over the past decade since starting as the Google Self-Driving Car Project in 2009. Waymo claims its dubbed “World’s Most Experienced Driver” L4 setup has driven more than 20 million miles (32 million km) on public roads across the U.S. and 15 billion miles (24 billion km) in simulation.

When the Cascadia truck with Waymo Driver will become available was not specified. Customers in the U.S. will see the autonomous truck “in the coming years,” and the companies will investigate expansion to other markets and brands “in the near future.”

“This partnership complements Daimler Trucks’ dual-strategy approach, of working with two strong partners to deliver autonomous L4 solutions that are seamlessly integrated with our best-in-class trucks, to our customers,” Martin Daum, chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler Truck AG and member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, said in a statement.

The second partner referenced by Daum is Blacksburg, Virginia-based Torc Robotics, which has been working with Daimler since 2019 on self-driving trucks and is part of the OEM’s Autonomous Technology Group. “We will be in the unique position to be able to provide our fleet customers with a choice among the best solutions for their individual requirements,” added Roger Nielsen, member of the Board of Management of Daimler Truck AG, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America.

‘Gen 2’ trucks
Torc Robotics and DTNA announced in October plans to begin testing the second generation of their self-driving Cascadia trucks in the Southwest U.S. in early 2021. Known internally as “Gen 2,” the enhanced prototype trucks include upgrades designed to accelerate data collection to assist in machine learning and algorithmic development.

Included in this effort is replicating the way experienced truck drivers can feel component failures, said Michael Fleming, Torc’s CEO. “Our software engineers are working with highly skilled truck drivers to understand this experience and transition this human intuition into embedded sensors and algorithms,” he said.

The partners also are incorporating software and hardware upgrades necessary to reliably handle failures of safety-critical vehicle components, such as braking, steering, power distribution and messaging. “To meet the redundancy and performance requirements of a self-driving truck, the traditional truck chassis must be reinvented. Just like any major innovation, it requires a stair-step approach toward the final product,” said Fleming. “We knew from the outset that self-driving technology cannot be commercialized without an OEM.”

To enhance lidar sensing, perception, and system-level performance for trucks moving at highway speeds, Daimler Trucks and Torc are now partnering with Luminar Technologies to integrate and further develop its sensor/software platform. The truck maker also has acquired a minority stake in Luminar.

“We are excited by the opportunity to work with Luminar and their long-range, high-resolution lidar to improve truck safety and enable us to commercialize self-driving trucks,” Fleming said in the Oct. 30 announcement. “This is a critical, enabling technology on our development path.”

Hub-to-hub autonomy
Traton and TuSimple claim their partnership is the “first of its kind” in Europe, pairing a global OEM with an autonomous-technology company that develops L4 systems. Their development program seeks to operate the first autonomous hub-to-hub route between Södertälje and Jönköping in Sweden using Traton’s Scania-brand trucks.

As part of the partnership, the Germany-based OEM also has taken a minority stake in TuSimple. “Our partnership with Traton Group accelerates the introduction of autonomous-truck technology to new international markets,” said Cheng Lu, President of TuSimple.

Traton’s goal is to test driverless truck fleets on roads throughout Sweden, Germany and other countries. Beyond helping to alleviate driver shortages in Europe in the medium term, Traton executives expect autonomous trucks to increase the overall truck capacity utilization. They said the first cases of deployment could occur outside of the specially demarcated areas, particularly for highly frequented hub-to-hub routes.

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