(Blacksburg, Va. – Sept. 3, 2020) Torc Robotics and Daimler Trucks will expand their joint self-driving truck on-road testing to New Mexico this month and establish a test center in the Albuquerque area. This announcement by Daimler Trucks and Torc coincides with the two companies celebrating their one-year partnership anniversary of Torc joining the Daimler Trucks family as part of the global Autonomous Technology Group.
At the end of August 2019, Daimler Trucks, the market leader in trucking, invested in a majority share of Torc Robotics, as part of its commitment to introduce self-driving trucks within a decade. Torc remains a separate entity fostering innovation in self-driving technology. Torc has a highly refined self-driving vehicle software stack that has been commercialized on multiple heavy-duty platforms and has been tested on public roads for more than 12 years. The Daimler Trucks/Torc team is committed to introducing self-driving trucks and the partners understood from the beginning that such a commercial undertaking would require a deep integration of the two teams.
The expansion of on-road testing routes follows a year of exploration by the partners who joined their expertise and experience to develop the foundational structure for an unprecedented large-scale technology commercialization. “Our deep partnership has enabled us to progress faster and further,” said Torc CEO Michael Fleming. “Torc has gained the data and perspective for developing technology for the trucking industry, plus a partner that is committed to safety. Daimler Trucks engineers have learned how the technology will impact truck design – and gained an experienced technology partner with a robust software stack,” he said.
“The partnership has enabled both our teams to move faster on developing Level 4 trucks,” said Dr. Peter Vaughan Schmidt, Head of Autonomous Technology Group at Daimler Trucks. “We will implement the results of our collaboration in the next phase of public road testing later this year.”
Major decisions from the collaboration include reinventing the truck chassis for self-driving functionality and developing a hub-to-hub operations model in collaboration with Daimler Trucks North America. The partners have also built a strong foundational infrastructure for commercializing at scale, including formalized rigorous testing and validation protocols, stringent truck safety driver certification processes, a next-generation simulation platform, and extended software capabilities.
Last September, Torc added Freightliner self-driving-equipped trucks to its fleet of test vehicles on public roads in Virginia. Results from those tests have been incorporated into a next-generation system that will be tested in both states. “Virginia provides us with a wide variety of conditions in close proximity to each other and to our engineering team. We will always continue to test here,” said Fleming. “We are expanding testing to new public routes in New Mexico to collect data in different situations along a major long-haul trucking route for the United States. Like Virginia, New Mexico’s highway system offers a range of road and weather conditions.” The team announced expansion plans in February, but they were delayed by the pandemic.
The partnership’s Level 4 self-driving trucks are deployed only after extensive testing and safety validation in simulation and on closed-course tracks in Madras, Oregon, at Daimler Trucks North America’s High Desert Proving Grounds. “Every truck we put on the road meets the high standards of Daimler Trucks and Torc Robotics,” Fleming said.
All automated runs require both a safety conductor and a highly trained safety driver certified both by Daimler Trucks and Torc Robotics. All safety drivers hold a commercial driver’s license and are specially trained in extreme vehicle dynamics and automated systems. The trucks used for the testing will be hauling a trailer with added weight to simulate a load.
Torc has tested its self-driving vehicle system on multiple platforms and in many states, including a cross country trip in 2017. The self-driving truck on-road testing is on a commercial-scale timeframe. “There is a big difference between proof-of-concept or demonstration testing, and testing for commercial scale operations,” Fleming said. “Previously, when we commercialized our technology on other platforms, the development and testing followed a different timeline from proof-of-concept work. At Daimler Trucks’ scale, safety dictates our timeline. Torc’s mission is to save lives through self-driving technology; Daimler’s reputation is based on safety, reliability, and innovation.”
Commercializing self-driving technology for trucking requires extensive cooperation with customers, community leaders, regulators, policy makers, first responders, and drivers to ensure it has appropriate value in the marketplace and is accepted by society, according to Fleming.
Torc teams have been mapping routes in New Mexico to prepare for the on-road testing program and Torc is recruiting team members in the region. Positions include test engineer, safety conductor, safety driver trainer, site operation and office management.
Torc has also been recruiting heavily for its growing engineering team in Blacksburg, Virginia, for software engineering positions, including infrastructure and tools, web development, Linux, and cloud technology.