An Intern’s Ride of a Lifetime

As part of our dedication to the future of freight, Torc offers a career-launching opportunity in all things robotics. Our Torc Co-op program and AV internships gives up-and-coming professionals the ability to work hand-in-hand with autonomous vehicle professionals, get paid to help create the first great generation of self-driving trucks, and more. In this article, Public Relations and Communications Co-op, Noah, recounts his experience riding in one of Torc’s driverless trucks.

Never would I have thought when I started this January at Torc as a public relations intern, that I would get the chance to experience the autonomous truck firsthand a little over four months later. I’m a completely remote intern, so most of my firsthand experience with our Torc trucks is through Zoom calls and emails. But, much to my surprise, Torc flew me out to Blacksburg to meet the team and to ride in one of our autonomous trucks!

Where’s the Demo Truck?

Coming into it, I thought that we would be driving along a demo-specific track, like a private road that’s meant for testing. I also knew that Gwen, one of my co-workers, would also be tagging along to guide me through the journey. However, I was surprised to learn that our 45-minute ride was a real, working truck ride, complete with fallback driver and safety conductor. While we coasted down the highway, we’d be gathering real data about the environment around us and testing our in-house software. Every truck ride at Torc is an opportunity to gather data and improve our systems, making my intern ride just as important as one of our day-to-day test runs.

To say that I was excited is an understatement.

“Every truck ride at Torc is an opportunity to gather data and improve our systems, making my intern ride just as important as one of our day-to-day test runs.”


Advanced and Futuristic

We began at Torc’s headquarters in the heart of Blacksburg, Virginia. After a quick meeting, we went out to meet the self-driving truck out in the parking lot.

This was my first time getting up close and personal with a semi-truck. My only real expectation was that riding around in it would feel like I was high up off the ground, and that the sheer size would make it feel as though we were moving slower than others on the road. In the parking lot, Gwen let me know that the trailer was loaded with cement in order to simulate a semi-truck filled with cargo. Deadhead rides, she said, or rides where the trailer is empty, are a significantly rougher ride.

Just being inside the truck felt very advanced and futuristic. As I buckled in and we pulled out into the parking lot, I watched the in-cab computer screen tell us what the software was detecting. Once we pulled out onto our intended test route, the lights above our heads switched from red to green, indicating that our driverless truck had entered autonomous mode.


At Torc, every demo ride is accompanied by a narrator. In my case, Gwen, our Program Manager, explained everything that was happening in the truck. She also provided some insight into the challenges that autonomous trucking professionals encounter. At Torc, we often say that 90% of the self-driving problem has been solved – it’s that last 10% that’s the real challenge. It was interesting to see how that philosophy manifested in real life.

Throughout the truck ride, I felt safe. Gwen informed me that the driver had his hands hovering over the steering wheel and foot over the pedal just in case of emergency while in autonomous mode.

The Full Experience

With the ride being around 45 minutes, I thought this was the perfect amount of time to be in the truck and get the full experience. The coolest thing about the ride was the monitor showing everything that the truck could see. From light changes, to different vehicles passing, and even traffic cones, the monitor was able to show me how the software recognized those objects and maneuvered accordingly.

We also had the opportunity to see how the truck handled other highway users. At one point, another semi-truck drifted towards us from the lane beside us. Out of an abundance of caution, our fallback driver took over and guided us away from the drifting semi.

A Safe Future

This was a really unique experience. It definitely isn’t something a lot of people can say they’ve done; it solidified my belief that the future of freight is in great hands, and it made me excited to be a part of it. My tech internship and AV internship has taught me a lot about autonomy and self-driving trucks, but it’s also taught me about the importance of safety culture.

I don’t think a day has gone by at Torc where someone hasn’t said that we’re all responsible for safety. Even at the intern level, I’ve been encouraged to speak up if I’ve ever felt that a situation was unsafe. Torc’s dedication to safety is just one of the many reasons why I’m excited to see how our technology develops.