back to article Machine learning gets semi conscious... Waymo, Daimler vow to bring self-driving trucks to American highways

Waymo has partnered with one of the world's largest truck manufacturers to install its fully autonomous self-driving technology into semi-trailer trucks on American roads. Daimler is the oldest name in German automotive engineering, and its US-based trucking arm Daimler Trucks said on Tuesday that it's collaborating with Waymo …

  1. Chris G Silver badge

    Autonomous defence

    Systems may be necessary considering there are 3.5 million truck drivers in the US.

    I imagine some of them may be less than happy about being replaced with a black box.

    I noticed in the article the Waymo are now talking Driver as a service now, I can imagine a truck owner talking to a call centre in Mumbai while looking for a lost unresponsive truck that is supposed to be in Chicago. Good luck with that

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Autonomous defence

      Time to join the elevator operators and strike

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Autonomous defence

      Talking to a call centre in Mumbai is luxury!

      This is a Google product we're talking about. They don't do call centres or any kind of customer contact at all. There'll be a button on the app for "find my missing truck". You'll press it and it'll either work or give an incomprehensible error message.

      You'll then be forced to search the internet to find any help if that fails. And no Google site will have anything. But if you're lucky - a search will reveal a support email address hidden deeply in the internet equivalent of a locked filing cabinet in a disused toilet with a sign on the door saying "beware of the leopard."

      You'll email that, and two days later get an automated response saying that if you've lost your truck, you simply press the "find my truck" button on the app.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Autonomous defence

        "a support email address hidden deeply in the internet equivalent of a locked filing cabinet in a disused toilet with a sign on the door saying "beware of the leopard.""

        Ah. I was wondering if the goo kids were ever going to do anything with DejaNews.

    3. macjules Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Autonomous defence

      Could be worse, they could have named it TorcTorc.

    4. NeilPost Silver badge

      Re: Autonomous defence

      It would be a double win..

      - ban autonomous trucks and save millions of jobs

      - fuck Google over

      Surprised Trump’s not already on it.

      It’s a race ri the bottom shedding lots of low-end jobs - truck drivers, van drivers, cab drivers, warehousing/picking !?

      ... the detriment to society will hugely outweigh the benefits.... as there will be millions of people with nothing to do, no likelihood of anything every to do and no income. Not even an Expanse Style local solar system Space colonisation will provide alternative means of supporting yourself or family unit.

  2. Little Mouse Silver badge

    Maximum Homerdrive

    The future, as predicted over 20 years ago, has arrived. Almost.

  3. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Self Driving Vehicles & Fusion?

    For at least 50 years Fusion has been touted as being ready for production in about 20 years but it has made it. Self driving vehicles might be the same thing, its only x years away but it never quite gets there.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Self Driving Vehicles & Fusion?

      It's not just self driving vehicles, it's AI in general that is following the fusion curve. It has been 20 years away since I first got to SAIL close to 50 years ago. It'll probably still be 20 years away when my Granddaughter is getting ready to retire. It wont stop people claiming it'll be here RealSoonNow and separating a new generation of rubes from their money every ten or fifteen years, though.

  4. lglethal Silver badge
    Facepalm

    What could possibly go wrong with a 20t vehicle, with a limited turning circle and long braking distance, operating completely autonomously?

    I mean so long as your not crossing the road at night whilst walking a bicycle. Or being a police car blocking one of the lanes complete with flashing lights and witches hats. Or being a semi trailer crossing across the highway, that just happens to somehow look like a cloud (OK that one was Tesla Autopilot and not fully automated, but even so, it speaks to the level of the tech...).

    What could go wrong?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      What could go wrong with a 20T vehicle driven by Bubba on Truckers-Brand(tm) amphetamines with a couple of beers busy texting

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      20T?

      More like 36000Kg, or 40 US tons.

      It would be interesting to see an autonomous vehicle performing an emergency stop on a wet or icy surface with an odd camber on a bend, particularly if it begins to jack knife . A challenge for a human driver but a human can read all the variables without necessarily having them pre-programmed, a robot will only be as good as the program.

  5. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Our Driver-as-a-Service model will first be focused on highway driving and also handle driving on a limited amount of surface streets to depots

    This makes much more sense as a first step for semi-autonomous vehicles than taxis.

  6. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    "Duel"

    Life imitating art.

    Don't upset the trucks. Respect a semi -- ooo-er, missus.

  7. vtcodger Silver badge

    A bit of sanity

    "Our Driver-as-a-Service model will first be focused on highway driving and also handle driving on a limited amount of surface streets to depots, whether that's an LTL terminal or warehouse or distribution center." A tiny bit of sanity in a domain dominated by nuttiness of Muskian proportions. Highway driving -- specifically on expressways is a far simpler problem than driving on surface streets. Basically it would seem to amount to match your entry speed to traffic and make sure you have a big enough hole for your vehicle. Once on the expressway, stay in the slow lane. Stay at or below the speed limit. Follow at a safe distance. Pull over if you see flashing lights in back of you. DON'T HIT ANYTHING!!! If you don't understand the situation, pull into the breakdown lane, stop and call for help. There are still a LOT of problems. Toll booths, Construction areas. Weigh stations. Port of Entry checks. livestock on the highway. Really bad weather, etc, etc, etc. But they can likely be handled.

    I'm actually impressed with Waymo. The rest of the automobile industry ... not so much.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      But who is liable?

      One unanswered question about this (or about autonomous vehicles in general) is who is liable for any incidents? Limiting this to the US (as this is a US company talking about doing trials in the US), will the truck maker be liable in the event of accidents? The truck operator?

      As Tesla's Autopilot has shown, even highway driving has edge-cases. A fire engine (or police car) may be stopped in your lane, and not visible until the vehicle in front swerves at the last minute. The road-markings may be worn or obscured. The sensors may be fooled.

      For haulage vehicles, the question of the load also arises. Who is responsible for loading it safely, and securing the load? Who is liable if it shifts, or falls off onto the highway? At the end of the highway, the autotruck pulls off, and a human driver arrives. Must he re-inspect the load (and assume liability) before moving off?

      With a driver, the law is clear: the driver is liable. Would a vehicle manufacturer really risk assuming that liability? The US courts have made it very clear that manufacturers can't just budget for some accidents (the Pinto case). So testing of software and hardware would need to be exceptionally rigorous, thorough and well-documented. "Move fast and break things" is unlikely to be acceptable as a development philosophy.

      And if it does go to a court, expect all the documentation to be examined very thoroughly. "You can't see that, it's commercially valuable" is unlikely to hold up.

      Would you invest in a company with that level of risk?

      1. FelixReg

        Re: But who is liable?

        Right. Driver manufacturers will be to insurance companies what auto manufacturers are to financial companies.

    2. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: A bit of sanity

      >Toll booths, Construction areas. Weigh stations. Port of Entry checks. livestock on the highway. Really bad weather, etc,

      Not much of a problem. Most of the Interstate trucks have transponders that identify them to tolls, weigh stations and inspection points so they don't need to stop. (Border Patrol checkpoints are a bit different, they don't seem to have any exceptions for commerical traffic.)

      It still seems a bit pointless. All we're doing is turning trucks into trains there's a good chance that trucks will convoy so instead of being held up at a grade (level) crossing by the best part of a mile's worth of train we'll have to pass a mile's worth of trucks on a two lane Interstate (the most common width). If they're passing another train of trucks, preferably on a grade, then the Interstate will become unusuable.

  8. codejunky Silver badge

    Great news

    Fingers crossed it works

  9. trevorde Silver badge

    Automated white van driver

    Tailgates you in the fast lane of the motorway

    Parks on double yellow lines

    Blocks narrow roads

    Fails to give way at intersections

    Does not indicate when turning corners

    Drives straight through pedestrian crossings

    Identifies female pedestrians - automatically sounds horn and flashes lights

    Comes with subscription to 'The Sun'

    1. Fred Dibnah

      Re: Automated white van driver

      Parks on the pavement (because somehow that negates the double yellows)

  10. User McUser
    Stop

    Level 4 Automation is insufficient

    The partnership aims to build level-four automated trucks, which would use AI to perform all the necessary functions needed to drive autonomously for a whole trip, theoretically. It'll still need a human driver to take over when necessary, for safety and regulatory reasons.

    Great, so the safety mechanism for a 16-Ton truck at highway speed is a person who for the last 4 hours has been sleeping, reading a book, watching a movie, or doing who knows what else because the thing drives itself 95% of the time, and is then expected to instantly and reliably take over the split second after the AI goes ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ?

    Anything less than Level 5 Autonomous vehicles are unacceptable IMO. I mean, what's the point of a self-driving car if I randomly and unexpectedly have to take over driving due to some sort of emergency that the AI can't handle?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Level 4 Automation is insufficient

      I believe you defined the problem with Level 3 autonomy. L3 throws control to the meatbag behind the wheel when it gets confused. Like you said, the human isn't necessarily ready to engage in time. L4 will let you know "hey, I got this on the highway, but in 28 miles I'll take a exit, you will need to take over on the surface streets."

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Re: Level 4 Automation is insufficient

        While you are of course right about the levels I suspect the person on board thing is more about the need to pay off the local sheriff have someone to take charge when something goes wrong.

  11. Jay Lenovo
    Joke

    Maximum Overdrive

    Stephen King invented the idea of self-driving trucks years ago.

    Now the carnage can be our own fault.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Maximum Overdrive

      I'm pretty certain that Killdozer! was written by Ted Sturgeon before that hack King was an itch in his daddy's pants.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Maximum Overdrive

        While there are construction vehicles (mostly mining) that are automated, it appears manufacturers have heeded the lessons of Killdozer! and declined to automate that vehicle.

        B-Movie wisdom, driving the future.

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Maximum Overdrive

      I think Christine was maybe level 7 since it (she?) included two additional characteristics over an above full autonomy -- self-repair and self-defense. It's unclear whether if treated decently -- regular oil changes and an occasional wash and wax -- she might not have been a perfectly OK family car.

  12. Gomez Adams

    The acid test will be if Homer can drive one of these safely.

  13. very angry man
    Happy

    Christine

    what was wrong with Christine i liked her and wanted a car just like her , till i was, damn i still do!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Christine

      Or for slightly younger readers, KITT. (Was KITT the true origin of the Cylons?)

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Christine

        Cat Woman was in no way, shape, or form a machine.

        RIP, Eartha.

  14. murrby

    Do they have protection against hijacking?

    - Put a car in each lane

    - Bring cars to a halt (autonomous truck duly stops)

    - Profit

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Pirate

      Do they have protection against hijacking?

      Well, if they'd be using Google Traffic the AI could deduce that it's just one car in each lane without congestion further ahead, and decide to take appropriate action.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unicorn deliveries

    If these juggernauts ever start rolling without a driver it will be time to give up the car.

  16. David Roberts Silver badge

    Automation?

    As far as I can recall there is very little full automation on the UK railways.

    Docklands Light Railway is one, and was built from scratch to be driverless.

    Everything else seems to have been built in the era of drivers.

    Of course the unions might have had some say in this.

    IMHO the same applies to road transport.

    A main transport network designed for and dedicated to autonomous vehicles would be able to solve most of the thorny issues associated with legacy road networks and interactions with human drivers.

    I recall a holiday in the USA when we hired an RV which was huge.

    Cruising on the main highways was in general easy as the roads were very wide and not crowded. Easy to automate.

    However due to the satnav not knowing how big the vehicle was it took us through SF from the 49ers stadium (good RV park there) to the Golden Gate bridge.

    I suspect an autonomous vehicle might have had a nervous breakdown in the traffic.

    I relied on the facts that the RV was conspicuously marked as a hire vehicle and was mostly the largest thing around by some margin.

    So I don't expect universal vehicle automation any time soon.

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