Ex-Googlers Tackle Self-Driving Trucks With New Start-Up

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San Francisco-based start-up Otto—made up of former Google, Apple, and Tesla employees—is designing a new approach to long-haul transit.

Commercial trucks currently move 70 percent of all cargo in the US. But until drones start making home deliveries, that number is expected to increase to keep up with growing consumer demand. With it, according to Otto, comes highway fatalities and a declining quality of life for drivers.

To speed the adoption of self-driving technology, Otto equipped existing trucks with a suite of sensors, software, and enhancements, "designed to empower truck drivers to drive more safely and efficiently," co-founders Anthony Levandowski and Lior Ron wrote in a blog post. "At the heart of our vision is the belief that self-driving tech is the key for creating a more sustainable, productive—and above all, safer—transportation future."

Levandowski served as a technical lead of Google's autonomous car division, while Ron was a Google Maps product lead before moving on to product management at Motorola Mobility.

Otto recently conducted an autonomous demo on a public highway. Going forward, "We intend to enhance the capabilities of the Otto truck, collect safety data to demonstrate its benefits, and bring this technology to every corner of the US highway system," Levandowski and Ron said.

"This is a critical effort, with wide-reaching implications for all of us, that requires cooperation between government agencies, the private sector, truck fleets, drivers, manufacturers and the brightest engineers," they added.

Want to get in on the action? Otto's 40-person, seven-dog team is hiring full-time software, mechanical, and electrical engineers, among a handful of other positions.

Otto, of course, is not the first to tap into self-driving truck technology. In May 2015, Daimler's Freightliner Inspiration Truck took its first autonomous journey, carrying Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Daimler AG board member Wolfgang Bernhard along US Highway 15 in Las Vegas.

Last month, meanwhile, more than a dozen semi-autonomous trucks completed the world's first cross-border truck platooning experiment. Plus, Google recently earned a patent for self-driving delivery trucks with compartments that carry individual packages.

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