Late last month, the Cupertino-based autonomous trucking company, Plus, demoed its Level 4 autonomous trucking technology to the public. A big part of the announcement was the demo video where Plus shows a driverless semi-truck operating at level 4 autonomy. You can see the truck changing lanes, signaling, exiting, and working safely within traffic, all without a human present. You can view the full video here.
A lot is going on at Plus as of late, with a couple of key announcements that have changes the company’s velocity. The first of those including going public via SPAC earlier this year. You can view my in-depth write-up on the acquisition here.
Another significant announcement was that Plus signed a deal to use NVIDIA SoCs in Plus trucks. The agreement with NVIDIA provides me with a higher level of confidence given NVIDIA automotive SoCs are tailored for these types of workloads. I wrote about the partnership between the two companies earlier this year, and you can access that here. Plus’s innovation and partnerships give me a higher degree of confidence that we are hurrying towards a reality where the roads are filled with fully autonomous semi-trucks. But for now, let’s dig into Plus’s Level 4 autonomy announcement.
Plus’s Level 4 trucking demo
Few industries must deal with as many safety hazards as an autonomous trucking company has to. Thousands of pieces of data are processed in an instant. The system’s decision based on that data could be the difference in colliding with other vehicles or safety avoiding a collision. With those hurdles in mind, Plus’s Level 4 autonomous trucking demo is impressive. This demo wasn’t the first time we have seen a driverless unit from Plus, as the first one was a Level 4 heavy truck in Qingdao port in early 2018. Plus’s recent demo video was roughly a minute and a half worth of footage showing a semi-truck running on Level 4 autonomous driving technology. You see the truck changing lanes during the video, avoiding other vehicles, and making real-time navigation decisions.
For those who aren’t familiar with the different levels of autonomy, Level 4 autonomy means the vehicle oversees all driving tasks and monitoring the driving environment. Human override is still an option, but in Plus’s level 4 demo, there were no safety drivers, teleoperators, or any form of human intervention present. The demo unit looked highly safe and functional, but there is a difference between a limited-run demo and a commercial product. The commercial product will have to be safer than a regular driver and make real-time decisions based on other motorist behaviors. This level of safety development takes time to get right. Plus plans to reach 8 billion miles of road experience on its platform before deploying it for commercial use, a differentiator. I think this is the right move, considering the high stakes that a driverless vehicle operates on.
Plus’s Level 4 autonomy technology isn’t available for commercial use just yet. Although the demo was encouraging, this isn’t Level 4 autonomy in its final form. There is still much work, testing, and validation before the L4 technology will be available in a commercial product.
Amazon autonomous trucking fleet
You can almost always judge the quality of a product by the confidence of its partners and customers. This product is no different. Large customers like Amazon are already committing to deploy autonomous vehicles with Plus. As it currently sits, Amazon will acquire 1,000 units of PlusDrive. PlusDrive is the company’s commercial driver-in product for semi-trucks. The deal will retrofit existing vehicles with next-generation autonomy technology. I wrote about Amazon’s intention to purchase 1000 units of PlusDrive a couple of months ago, and you can access that write-up here.
I believe Amazon is a great partner for Plus as it has thousands of vehicles on the road daily. Many of those are semi-trucks delivering loads to Amazon warehouse and fulfillment centers. Plus has already shown proof of concept and its technical functionality, but if it can prove commercial functionality within 1,000s of Amazon vehicles, the demand for the product could ramp quickly.
It is encouraging to see Plus’s progress on Level 4 autonomy with this most recent demo. I am sure there are plenty of kinks to iron out, but that is expected. There is much execution left to get fully autonomous trucks on the road safely and efficiently, but today marked another milestone complete towards that goal. There are many inputs and problems to solve, which will require a singular focus on trucking autonomy if anyone is up to the task of attacking the global trucking market its Plus’s CEO and Founder, David Liu.
With $4 trillion up for grabs in the global trucking market, Plus has plenty of market potential to capitalize on, and adding a partner like Amazon is a great start. I will keep a close eye on Plus as the company continues to mature and test its autonomous technology in the future. In the meantime, good job Plus.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.