A Round-Trip in Torc’s Self-Driving Car

On April 1, 2017, Torc’s self-driving car arrived at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant without a big deal. The team of technicians and engineers walked up to the steps of the building and took pictures while the LiDAR sensor on top of the car kept spinning. The street was mostly empty, and the sun was starting to go down. But when the leader of the team called the Torc headquarters and said, “We’re here!” The cheers and rapid-fire questions from the other line broke the quiet of the street.

The Start of Our Self-Driving Journey

The arrival was the end of the first day of a round trip in one of Torc’s self-driving cars from Blacksburg, Virginia, to Detroit, Michigan. The engineers watched the car drive itself for a total of 1,023 miles and noted that it performed well the whole time. It went down the winding roads of West Virginia in the rain, didn’t mind the heavy traffic on Ohio’s multi-lane highways, and had no trouble with Michigan’s bumpy, jagged pavement.

Torc’s self-driving vehicle on the road.

Torc’s self-driving vehicle on the road.

The car’s numerous cameras and large Velodyne LiDAR sensor mounted on its roof sparked numerous conversations with passersby and observers along the route. One of the most frequently asked questions was whether Torc was a storm-chasing team. Some individuals who approached the car simply repeated the words emblazoned on its side. “Torc. Self-driving,” they would say as a greeting. They would then stare at the team in anticipation of an explanation.

t a rest stop in West Virginia, a woman leaned out of the window of a big brown RV and filmed the team cleaning the rain off the GoPro cameras that were set up to record the trip. In Ohio, a car full of teenagers drove by the car. Each of them held a phone in one hand and waved wildly with the other.

Arriving in Detroit

The few people who passed the camera and sensor-equipped car on Piquette Street in Detroit stopped to ask what it was doing. The team responded that it had driven there to showcase Torc’s autonomous vehicle technology. The trip paid tribute to the city that sparked the American automotive revolution.

The Ford Piquette Plant destination was not chosen as a random destination. Torc co-founder and CEO Michael Fleming said he chose the plant for its historical significance. Fleming stated, “We chose the birthplace of the Model T as our destination because it signifies the beginning of the transportation revolution.” “Self-driving vehicles are the next revolution; they have the potential to improve the lives of everyone.”

The Journey Home

On April 2, the Torc team traveled back to Virginia. Despite arriving on Sunday evening, they were greeted by a large group of Torc employees when they pulled into the company garage. They immediately gathered to discuss trip data, improvements, and a plan to improve the technology. The vehicles were back on the local roads Monday morning and have been on public roads almost every day since.

It was the end of a successful trip but just the beginning of our journey. Stay tuned for announcements in the coming months.

Torc’s Self-Driving Car Project Background

Ten years ago, Torc Robotics (TORC®) and Virginia Tech developed a self-driving car. It came in third place in the DARPA Urban Challenge after crossing the finish line. Since then, the company has grown by leaps and bounds and made autonomous vehicle solutions for the mining, defense, construction, agriculture, and auto industries.

In 2016, Michael Fleming gave his team a new task: make a system that gives consumer vehicles full autonomy. He said that the auto industry was ready and that it was time to show what a decade of progress with a winning team looked like.

Torc developed two self-driving vehicles to demonstrate a system built on ten years of multidisciplinary engineering progress. Each vehicle carries an end-to-end software stack that the Torc team has honed for this automotive challenge. The team continues to test and develop the system capabilities.