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Well color us surprised. We just posted an article on how it seems like the race for the first retail self-driving vehicle has died in the wake of electric vehicle (EV) development, but it seems the progress for autonomous cars is still going. It just depends on where you look – big automakers may have changed focus, but start ups are still looking to make their name as the first successful company to put self-driving vehicles on the roads in mass. A developer in Silicon Valley is getting some attention with its self-driving commercial trucks – Plus.
Why the company is testing in Shanghai, China is a little different, but perhaps they just want to get away from the already saturated streets of California with self-driving test projects. Plus successfully tested the driverless truck, without a human behind the wheel and without a remote operator, on the busy Wufengshan highway, the business hub of the Yangtze Delta region in Shanghai. It’s a good way to make some noise, because that makes Plus the first company to be granted a special permit to test Level 4 vehicles in all of China. A first always makes it to the history books.
The ABC/Google Waymo was the first U.S. commercial ride-hailing service without human drivers, so we can understand Plus going international for testing. Plus is making a huge milestone with Level 4 autonomous technology. Although there are five (technically six if counting level 0) levels, Level 4 is commonly referred to as an automated driving feature that can drive the vehicle under limited conditions. This is no different than the recent 2022 Jeep Compass, also featuring Level 4 autonomy, and that’s a mass retail vehicle. However, the Jeep Compass is at best an SUV, and Plus is testing freaking semi trucks!
Both of them tend to only function autonomously if using geo-fencing or provided maps for the system to read and navigate. Level 5 can drive the car anywhere, but both don’t require a driver to intervene, and that’s a pretty large but scary accomplishment. Can you imagine trying to pass a semi truck and realize there is no driver? Spooky stuff – think of the legal ramifications if an incident were to happen. Shawn Kerrigan, COO and Co-founder of Plus sounds pretty confident though.
"The driverless demo highlights the ability of our Level 4 autonomous driving technology to enable driverless highway operations in a semi truck…The demo shows the safety, maturity, and functionality of our technology, and we are excited to continue to work closely with our suppliers, fleet customers, and OEM partners to further develop, test, and refine a driverless product for commercial deployment." – Kerrigan
You can watch the full test demo below:
Level 4 robotaxis have been in testing phases and launched for years, but this accomplishment by Plus is like a double-edged sword. Yes, on the one hand, no more sleepless nights for truck drivers, and possibly less deadly commercial truck accidents for it. On the other hand, well, we always say robots are going to eventually take our jobs. Will Level 4 trucks put a huge population of workers out of a job? Well, Waymo got pushed back by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), so it might be a while away. Follow along with us on NowCar social media.