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Torc Robotics is Expanding its Self-Driving Truck Testing to New Mexico

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【Summary】Self-driving truck developer Torc Robotics, which has been testing its semi trucks in Virginia announced that its expanding to New Mexico this month. The company is establishing a test center in the Albuquerque area. The expansion of on-road testing routes to New Mexico follows a year of working with Daimler Trucks on developing a foundational structure for the commercialization of self-driving trucks.

Eric Walz    Sep 04, 2020 10:25 AM PT
Torc Robotics is Expanding its Self-Driving Truck Testing to New Mexico

Self-driving truck developer Torc Robotics, which has been testing its semi trucks in Virginia announced that its expanding to New Mexico this month. The company is establishing a test center in the Albuquerque area.

The expansion of on-road testing routes to New Mexico follows a year of working with Daimler Trucks on developing a foundational structure for the commercialization of self-driving trucks, which will make freight delivery much more efficient and safer. 

The companies announced their expansion plans in February, but they were delayed by the pandemic. Torc Robotics said it will collect data that it will use to refine its autonomous driving software. Torc teams have been mapping routes in New Mexico to prepare for an on-road testing program.

"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, said Torc CEO Michael Fleming. 

Virginia-based Torc robotics, which is backed by Daimler Trucks, deployed its autonomous trucks on public roads in the U.S. for the first time in Sept 2019 on highways in southwest Virginia, near the company's headquarters. The company is working closely with Daimler on the development of autonomous trucks.

"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."

In March 2019, Daimler Trucks invested in a majority share of Torc Robotics for an undisclosed sum, as part of its commitment to deploy self-driving trucks within a decade. However, Torc remains a separate entity and is still developing self-driving technology on its own.

So far, Torc Robotics and Daimler have built a 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 software. 

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.

Torc Robotics 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 company said.

Much of the work Daimler is focused on in its partnership with torc Robotics is redesigning the truck chassis for autonomous driving, which includes adding redundant hardware systems and sensors to offer the maximum level of reliability and safety for commercial use. The Torc team in Portland is developing the redundant truck chassis systems.

The new system can independently brake, accelerate and steer. It allows partially automated driving in all speed ranges for the driver. The autonomous technology is supported by fusing together data from cameras and radar.

Daimler is also building an infrastructure required for the operational testing of its autonomous trucks, including a main control center and a hub-to-hub operations model for the trucks.

Daimler Trucks is one of the first companies to develop autonomous trucks. In 2014, the division demonstrated its "Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025", the world's first automated truck. The demo took place on a closed-off section of the Autobahn near Magdeburg, Germany.

Last year, Torc added Freightliner Trucks self-driving-equipped trucks to its fleet. Daimler Trucks has owned U.S. truck maker Freightliner since 1981. 

All automated runs require both a safety engineer and a highly trained safety driver certified both by Daimler Trucks and Torc Robotics. All safety drivers hold a commercial truck driver's license and are specially trained in extreme vehicle dynamics and automated systems. 

The trucks used for the testing will also be hauling a trailer with added weight to simulate a cargo load.

Torc has tested its self-driving vehicle system on multiple platforms, including a cross country trip in July 2017 from Virginia to Seattle with one of its self-driving vehicles. 

Other companies are also working on the commercialization of self-driving trucks, including Alphabet's autonomous driving division Waymo and TuSimple. In July, TuSimple announced the launch of an autonomous freight delivery service with some of the world's leading shipping companies, including United Parcel Service (UPS) and Xpress. The self-driving trucks will have a safety driver behind the wheel to monitor the trucks' operation.

Many industry analysts believe that self-driving trucks will be deployed before vehicles designed to carry passengers. From an engineering standpoint, its easier to develop driverless trucks for highway routes that do not require advanced perception systems designed to operate in urban areas and around pedestrians and bicyclists. 

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