The Van Trump Report

How Torc Robotics Aims to Put Fleets of AI-Powered Autonomous Trucks on the Road

After more than 15 years of developing its autonomous truck driving technology, Torc Robotics is finally laying out plans for market launch by 2027. The company has been working with major trucking companies to fine-tuning the technology that Torc CEO Peter Vaughan Schmidt says will enable fleets to transport freight “faster, safer, and at a lower cost” while also helping to alleviate their long-standing driver recruiting and retention challenges.

Torc, which has been an independent subsidiary of Daimler Trucks since 2019, uses cameras, lidar, radar, and high-definition mapping in its autonomous trucking tech. Artificial intelligence helps the trucks identify objects like cars and people. The company says its systems can detect if the trucks need to stop for gas, or even if someone is trying to jump atop to hitch a free ride.

Thanks to their close partnership, Torc has been building its technology out on Daimler’s best selling Freightliner Cascadia. In North America, Daimler sells around 70,000 Class 8 trucks per year via their Freightliner brand. The Torc-equipped prototypes are now heading into their fifth year of road testing in in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

While the company continues to perfect its autonomous technology, Andrew Culhane, Torc’s chief strategy officer, notes that there is a lot more that goes into scaling the business. “Over the last 12 months, it’s less of a conversation about the truck itself. Now [it’s] OK, ‘What is it actually going to take to run these assets?’”

Culhane explains that while the truck is the thing that actually moves stuff around, “there’s a lot of things we need to integrate with—such as [transportation management systems] and how that ties into the planners, mission control, dispatchers, and even the hub and yard operations—and how that connects to current fleet operations,” he told Freightwaves. Culhande says it will take the next three years for Torc to influence and adopt the policies, procedures, and standard operating efficiencies for autonomous trucks.

Culhane said Torc will first focus on developing a scalable hub-to-hub platform, with other transportation options used for the so-called “last mile” transport. Specifically, Torc plans to create unmanned freight lanes, the first of which will be tested between Laredo, Texas, and Dallas. By automating stretches of highway driving between designated freight hubs, Torc says autonomous trucks could shift more driver jobs toward local and regional routes that offer more home time and typically have lower turnover rates.

Most self-driving routes would be at least 250 miles and could extend up to 1,000 miles between hubs, according to Culhane. Rather than build out its own transfer points, however, Torc wants to leverage customer facilities. It has already formed partnerships with other several key players in the freight industry, including Schneider and C.R. England, both of whom it has also conducted pilots with.

Culhane said his team will continue to validate its technology between now and the 2027 launch. “We can operate in the rain today, but do we have enough rain data to say we can do it safely in all sorts of conditions?” he noted. “That last bit is the full validation.” A video explaining Torc’s technology and capabilities is available HERE

Daimler CEO Martin Daum last year said that in 2030, the company expects to generate over $3.30 billion in revenue and $1.1 billion earnings (before interest and taxes) from automated truck operations. In addition to selling the autonomous driving system via Torc Robotics, Daimler also plans to sell vehicles that customers can equip with autonomous driving technology from other vendors. (Sources: Freightwaves, FleetOwner, Fortune)

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