The next time you’re driving down the highway, take a close peek at the first semi truck you see, and you might notice that the person in the driver’s seat isn’t touching the steering wheel. That’s because after years of development, driverless trucking technology became commercially available for the first time in 2021.
The company that brought this industry-transforming technology to market is California-based Plus. In early 2021, Plus launched PlusDrive, an innovative, driverless technology product that can be integrated with trucks during the manufacturing process or retrofitted to existing vehicles. The technology is already being used by commercial shippers in the U.S. and China.
“We’re proud to be the first company to offer a commercially available autonomous-trucking technology product,” says David Liu, Plus’s founder and CEO. The potential impact of this product—from cost savings to safer roads—helped earn Plus a spot on Fast Company’s list of world’s Most Innovative Companies of 2022.
ENGINEERING PLUS ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Autonomous trucking technology requires an integrated—and highly sophisticated—hardware and software system that makes use of robotics, sensors, and artificial intelligence. Plus employs teams of specialists in constant collaboration to ensure that the system works as a whole.
“We are a company founded by engineers,” Liu says. “We love to solve hard problems, and autonomous driving is one of the most complex engineering problems of our generation.”
from the beginning, Plus’s founders realized that engineering was only half of the solution. The other half was identifying a path to commercialization for its self-driving truck technology, which will evolve from a driver-in product to one that won’t require a driver at all. That’s why Plus has remained focused on developing partnerships across the transportation value chain, from truck manufacturers and suppliers to commercial shippers. The efforts are starting to pay off. Last year, the company landed a purchase agreement with Amazon for 1,000 units of PlusDrive and started series production of PlusDrive-enabled FAW trucks which already received more than 8,000 pre-orders from some of China’s largest shippers. Plus is also co-developing autonomous trucks for Europe with IVECO.
SAFETY AND SUSTAINABILITY
PlusDrive is demonstrating on a global stage that driverless technology has the potential to offer unprecedented levels of safety. Its radars, lidars, and camera sensors give the truck 360-degrees of vision. Equipped with artificial intelligence it eliminates blind spots and offers a once-unimaginable degree of situational awareness. And with human operators required to remain in the driver’s seat (at least for now—the laws may change eventually), there’s an extra level of monitoring and safety built into the driving experience.
And there’s a green component as well: PlusDrive also reduces the carbon footprint of heavy trucks. Its algorithms factor in a number of variables—including traffic patterns, the speed of surrounding vehicles, and the gradient of the road—to continuously optimize the drive to make it more fuel-efficient. Across more than 250 commercial freight runs Plus demonstrated a fuel savings of at least 10%—which could add up to millions of tons of reduced carbon emissions over the next decade.
“The ability to make a huge impact on society by improving safety and reducing carbon emissions is exactly what inspired me and my cofounders to start this company in the first place,” Liu says. “It’s the future that I want for my children and all the generations to come.”