The dust had hardly cleared from Otto’s autonomous truck rival Embark landing on the scene last week, to a third startup entering the fray — Starsky Robotics — this time with what the company says is a way to keep the trucker behind the wheel. Just not in the cab.
The final mile of the run is achieved [at this point in tests] by taking the driver out of the cab entirely and putting them in a place where they remotely operate the truck to its final delivery destination.
Think of it as a truck simulator but using a real vehicle, says Starsky Robotics co-founder Stefan Seltz-Axmacher. The driver is still at the wheel and working the pedals. The remote driver is in control of the truck at all times, he said, and can bring the CMV to a stop if need be.
He said while other companies have approached autonomous trucks from a technology standpoint first, Starsky came at it from a trucking prospective first, adding that a truck driver was hired as part of the company early on.
Although an autonomous truck does well navigating miles of straight highway, the problem has always been when it enters or exits the highway or approaches a metropolitan setting.
With the Starsky approach, problem solved.
Seltz-Axmacher, 27, said this San Francisco-based company equips trucks (they’re testing three Freightliner Cascadias currently) with a system that uses computers, radar and software that drives itself on the highway and then via remote [trucker] control on local roads.
That would enable a truck driver to work close to home and get home every night.
Problem solved with the driver shortage, as well, he said.
Well, so far, so good, but Starsky hasn’t yet operated the truck by remote on the highway. They’re also continuing to test with a driver at the actual wheel in the cab but hope by the end of this year to take the driver out of the cab.
And — they’re looking to hire more drivers. Stay tuned.