Follow-the-leader: A shortcut to autonomous trucking

Auto trucks don't need drivers if they have a good guide.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

A company spun out of a prestigious university robotics lab is making a big leap in autonomous trucking. Locomation is claiming the world's first autonomous truck purchase order from a Springfield, MO, company called Wilson Logistics.

The order will equip 1,120 trucks with Locomation's convoy technology, which enables driverless trucks to follow a lead-truck piloted by a human, combining the best of autonomous technology with reliable human-in-the-loop driving protocols. The first units will be delivered in early 2022.

Trucking is considered one of the nearest horizons for on-road autonomy. A chronic shortage of qualified drivers coupled with safety issues throughout the industry make the sector ripe for autonomous intervention. Peterbilt is developing self-driving technology for its tractor-trailers, as are a number of startups, such as Embark. Tesla's electric semi is slated for production in 2021.

"We understand the importance of autonomous vehicle technology to the future of Wilson Logistics, and choosing our AV partner has been a deliberate process," explained Darrel Wilson, Founder and CEO of Wilson Logistics. "In Locomation we see the most viable path to safe, rapid, and broad commercialization and we're proud to make this purchase commitment." Wilson added "Locomation delivers both the technology and the implementation methods required to enable Wilson Logistics to realize our strategic plans for profitable growth through technology."

Locomation's inaugural product is the Autonomous Relay Convoy (ARCTM), which enables one driver to pilot a lead truck while a follower truck works in tandem via a fully autonomous driving system.The company was founded in 2018 by autonomy experts at Carnegie Mellon's National Robotics Engineering Center and trucking industry veterans. The firm has collected a group of specialists in robotics and artificial intelligence along with trucking industry pros.

The agreement with Wilson follows a successful pilot that involved two Locomation trucks hauling Wilson Logistics trailers and freight on a 420 mile-long route from Portland, OR, to Nampa, ID. 

"Wilson Logistics is a leader in the industry with significant focus on driver quality of life, overall fleet safety and operational excellence. This purchase order is just the beginning of a significant leap toward autonomous technology for the entire trucking sector," said Dr. Çetin Meriçli, CEO and Co-Founder of Locomation. "Wilson Logistics has been an excellent partner and their multi- year commitment to Locomation demonstrates the strong industry validation of our autonomous technology in freight transportation."

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