Google's ex-engineer Anthony Levandowski, one of the founders of its self-driving car department, now has formed a startup called Ottomotto LLC for developing self-driving truck technology.
He left the company in January, and was joined by Lior Ron, a former Alphabet employee who had led Google Maps and also worked in the development of the Moto X smartphone. Levandowski suggests that the company includes former employees from Alphabet, Tesla and Apple.
Levandowski says that they will not build a truck, but the startup is aiming to develop hardware kits for existing trucks, which will help them go driverless. Otto is currently testing its self-driving hardware kits on three Volvo trucks on the highways, and plans to work with Class 8 trucks — the heaviest and the largest on U.S. roads.
Otto will focus on highway driving as it accounts for the majority of the truck driving time. Drivers will still be needed for surface streets, unloading, loading and other tasks.
"We are focusing on the near-term potential for autonomous vehicles. It is easier for us to convince ourselves that our technology is better than humans on highways," says Levandowski. However, he did not confirm a timeline or price, but added that the self-driving hardware kit will cost a fraction of the actual truck's cost.
In 2013, the federal government adopted regulations that require more rest time for U.S. truck drivers and limit how much they could drive in a week. It is unclear whether adding new technology to ease driving would allow for more flexibility with those regulations.
Otto is not the only company that is developing self-driving technology for trucks. Other companies such as Volvo and Daimler are also working on self-driving trucks. However, Otto is not worried about competition from the big wigs.
"I think the trucking folks are doing a great job, and eventually they would probably solve the problem. But a company that is used to building trucks is not well structured to solve a technology problem," says Levandowski. "I'm not trying to dismiss them in any way, I think it's fantastic what they're doing. But I think it's a different timeframe and objectives as to what we're trying to solve and what they're trying to solve."
Check out a short video of a self-driving truck with the Otto hardware kit in action.