Autonomous truck-maker Plus.ai recently closed a new deal with the Transportation Research Center to conduct unprecedented testing of its vehicles' on-road safety.
"This is the first independent testing and validation program for a self-driving truck that has been publicly announced," Shawn Kerrigan, co-founder of Plus.ai, told Cheddar.
The company commissioned TRC to develop the testing which will be conducted on the Center's seven-and-half-mile, four-lane closed course. Kerrigan says this will allow the company to conduct tests, like multi-vehicle tests, that would be unsafe to carry out on public roads.
Kerrigan's hope is that the extra battery of testing will "prove out the overall safety and reliability of the system as well as instill greater public confidence in terms of the safety of these types of technologies."
"Just as a real driver needs to go through a testing certification to be able to drive a Class 8 truck, we think similar-type testing is going to be important for autonomous vehicles," he said.
While his team believes self-driving trucks can be the answer to many problems in shipping and safety on the road, they face concerns that autonomous vehicles could put human drivers out of work. But, Kerrigan says the industry's immediate focus should be hiring drivers. He cites the current driver shortage and says Plus.ai trucks will help address that problem.
"We think that the rollout of these technologies will be gradual," he explained. "We see this as a long-term story around addressing the driver shortage, improving overall safety, and bringing economic impact on a positive side."
"What we're finding is there's tremendous interest in this space right now because, if anything, this recent coronavirus crisis has shown the importance of trucking," he told Cheddar.
When it comes to funding for Plus.ai, Kerrigan noted the importance of talking to investors as the industry grows in popularity.
"Trucking is the first place that autonomous technology will be commercialized because of the safety case, the clear business case, and the technology fit," he said.