If Google’s driverless car project fulfills its wild ambitions, it’ll change everyday life in a way that few technologies ever have. Otto, a new San Francisco startup founded by some folks who were formerly part of Google’s effort—and staffed with alumni of Apple, Tesla, and other companies—is tackling a challenge that’s a tad more specific: It’s developing tech to let trucks drive themselves. The company, which was formed in January and is officially unveiling itself today, has already been testing modified Volvo trucks on public roads.
By focusing on trucks and the U.S.’s 222,000 miles of highways, Otto doesn’t need to think as much about oncoming traffic, pedestrians, cyclists, and other facts of life which are unavoidable if you’re trying to teach an automobile to drive itself on surface roads.
Cofounder Anthony Levandowski told me that Otto’s goal isn’t to render human truck drivers obsolete but rather to help owner-operators make more money by allowing them to safely keep their vehicles on the road far longer than would be possible if they were behind the wheel 100% of the time. “We could make their lives a lot better by allowing them to be more of a navigator than a skipper, in a marine sense of the term,” he says.