I’ve written before that autonomous vehicles will be one of the most powerful, most influential new technologies we see in our lifetimes. While much of the talk has centered around consumer vehicles, taxicabs and the like, another sector that stands to be heavily impacted is trucking. This industry plays a crucial role in the world economy. Here in the U.S., commercial vehicles move over an estimated 70% of all freight, a trend that’s only accelerated as Covid-19 drove people towards e-commerce and next-day delivery services. All the while, the trucking industry is facing a shortage of drivers, with the American Trucking Associating estimating the freight industry will be coming up 160,000 drivers short of demand by 2028. That is if nobody does anything about it.
Enter Plus, a Cupertino-based autonomous truck startup founded in 2016. Plus recently inked a major deal with NVIDIA, an announcement that caught my eye at NVIDIA’s GTC 2021 conference last week. This is a big win for Plus, given NVIDIA’s ascendant DRIVE SoCs and its robust simulation, testing and validation technology for autonomous vehicles. Let’s take a closer look at Plus’s big news and what it could mean for autonomous trucking.
PlusDrive plus DRIVE Orin
The announcement, specifically, is that Plus is building the next generation of its autonomous trucking platform, PlusDrive, on the NVIDIA DRIVE Orin SoC. Planned for a 2022 rollout in the U.S., China and Europe, Plus says it has already received over 10,000 pre-orders for the system, which promises to make long-haul trucking safer and more efficient. Crucially, not only can manufacturers upfit new vehicles with PlusDrive, but trucking companies can retrofit their older, existing trucks.
If you’ve ever had multiple eighteen-wheelers box you in on the interstate, you’ve probably got a good idea of the safety hazards they pose. The heaviest trucks can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, with a fully-loaded trailer, which necessitates significantly more time and foresight to come to a complete stop and to perform maneuvers safely. To render a truck of this size autonomous requires immense amounts of data and processing. PlusDrive leverages a plethora of sensors—lidar, radar and cameras—to gain a complete, 360-degree view of the truck’s surroundings. This data must then be processed to enable object identification, prediction of said object’s movement, course planning and, of course, the actual control of the vehicle’s movements taking into account all of these variables. With so many necessary concurrent operations, the compute power at the heart of the system is of paramount importance.
It’s no surprise to me that Plus turned to NVIDIA to supply the muscle. The company’s DRIVE Orin platform can deliver 254 Tops (total operations per second) and support highly complex DNNs (deep neural networks) for making split-second decisions. Another benefit of Orin is that NVIDIA designed it at the system level for ISO 26262 Functional Safety ASIL-D, a designation that Plus calls “vital for safety-critical applications like self-driving.”
With its planned rollout in 2022, PlusDrive will signify one of Orin’s first commercial deployments. DRIVE Orin comes as a follow-up to NVIDIA’s DRIVE Xavier platform, precedes the just-announced DRIVE Atlan (yes, there’s already another generation coming).
PlusDrive is an excellent example of the collaboration necessary to make roads populated by fully autonomous vehicles a reality. It’s too much for one company to manage on its own—it requires the best and the brightest to come together, perfect the technology and devise the use cases, such as autonomous trucking, that will change the world of commerce and transportation as we know it. If you are interested in vehicle automation, I would suggest keeping your eyes on Plus in the future.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.