Why do we need self-driving semi trucks?

The economic prosperity of this country depends on trucks

Improved Safety

Trucking remains one of the most dangerous careers in the country, with accidents involving trucks resulting in over 4,500 fatalities and 145,000 injuries in 2017.4 Driver fatigue contributes to one of every seven fatal truck accidents.5 Driver error is at least a factor in over 90 percent of all accidents.6 Between the driving risks and challenging lifestyle of being on the road for weeks at a time, it is not surprising that there is a massive shortage of over 60,000 drivers in the US.7 This shortage is only expected to grow in the coming years with truck driver retirements, since the average age of a US truck driver is 55 years old.8

Autonomous trucks represent a clear solution to these problems, and Plus.ai is built around the vision that autonomous technology will first be successfully deployed in trucks on highways. Autonomous trucks do not get tired or distracted, and they can maintain superhuman levels of awareness of their surroundings (e.g., object identification and tracking 1-mile ahead, full 360-degree awareness around the truck). Greater situational awareness and precise control capabilities are critical for 70+ feet-long heavily-loaded tractor trailers with less maneuverability and stopping power than cars. Learning can also be applied across the full fleet of trucks, so every truck can improve based on a volume of driving experience beyond what a normal human driver would see in a career.

Increased Fuel Efficiency

Fuel is the second largest expense for fleet owners and about a third of the total cost of operating a truck. According to ATA’s Technology and Maintenance Council, the most-skilled drivers generate up to 35% better miles per gallon (mpg) than less-skilled operators.9 Speeding, rapid acceleration, idling, braking and similar driving habits can also lower gas mileage by roughly 15% to 30% at highway speeds and 10% to 40% in stop-and-go traffic. With autonomous trucks, all vehicles in the fleet will perform at the same level of fuel efficiency, and autonomous trucking companies like Plus.ai are developing algorithms that allow autonomous trucks to outperform the best human drivers in terms of fuel efficiency.

How is self-driving car and self-driving truck technology different?

There is significant difference in size and weight between cars versus semi trucks which means ultimately the vehicles are handled very differently. In particular, trucks need more time to stop compared to cars. A semi truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, while most passenger vehicles are around 3,000 to 4,000 pounds. At 75 mph (120 km/h), a semi truck with trailer has a stop distance of about 600 feet (180 meters). In addition to the heavier weight, there is a 0.6 to 0.8 second air brake lag on the semi trucks, contributing to the longer stop distance.10

Unlike passenger cars, semi trucks are used for commercial purposes so they also need to operate in all weather conditions. Typically on wet surfaces stop distance increases by 75%. A safe stop distance on wet surfaces would be about 1000 feet (315 meters).

The fastest human reaction time is 0.7 seconds. Professional truck drivers’ typical reaction time is 0.75 second to 1.5 seconds. The most advanced autonomous trucks can accurately track stationary and moving obstacles 1-mile ahead (1600 meter range). The best system reaction time can be less than 100 milliseconds.