Last week, I wrote about autonomous trucking startup Plus (formerly Plus.ai), a relatively new name in the tech world. We learned that Plus is building the next generation of its PlusDrive platform on top of NVIDIA’s DRIVE Orin SoC. Plus followed that announcement up with some more news—two more collaborations and some information on the company’s sustainability efforts. Let’s take a look at what Plus shared.
AVs meet the natural gas engine
First, Plus announced a new initiative with Cummins, a global engine manufacturer, to codevelop an industry first: a supervised autonomous truck powered by natural gas. This collaboration comes as a “natural extension,” in the words of Plus COO and Co-founder Shawn Kerrigan, of an ongoing, long-standing partnership between the two companies. Together, they are integrating Cummins’ natural gas powertrain and suite of features with the PlusDrive platform.
This reveal comes at an opportune time, with Earth Day and the White House’s announcing the goal to reduce carbon emissions by 50% to 52% by 2030. Both companies demonstrate commitment to sustainable transportation and are rightfully seizing the moment to telegraph it. Cummins’ compressed natural gas engines are certified to deliver close to zero emissions. Based on the EPA’s current standards for nitrogen oxide air pollution, these engines can cut smog-forming emissions by as much as 90%. This is a big deal for automakers, which have regulations and emissions standards to contend with (requirements which could very well get more stringent in the coming years). In this way, automakers and fleet customers alike stand to future-proof themselves with Plus and Cummins’ solution for autonomous trucks. This is on top of the optimized fuel efficiency enabled by PlusDrive’s AI algorithms. Better fuel efficiency equates to lower fuel costs for the trucking companies.
A platform that benefits the automakers, the trucking companies and the environment? What’s not to like? Plus has the trucking industry’s attention; some of the largest truck fleets worldwide are already test piloting PlusDrive. The company says it will begin mass production of the new PlusDrive system this year, with natural gas-powered, supervised autonomous trucks slated to hit the market in 2022.
On to IVECO
The other recent announcement is that Plus signed a Memorandum of Understanding with IVECO, an Italian transport vehicle manufacturer, regarded as a leader in the commercialization and manufacturing of vehicles powered by alternative fuels (and a subsidiary of CNH Industrial N.V.). Though the agreement is non-binding, the companies intend to integrate IVECO’s S-WAY heavy-duty truck with PlusDrive. Additionally, the partners will investigate the possibility of using IVECO’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) engine system to power these new jointly-developed vehicles. Integrating LNG in the mix would come with several benefits, chiefly, a significant reduction in carbon emissions and a bigger payload capacity (due to the lighter weight of LNG systems).
This looks like another intelligent partnership to me. IVECO has an impressive footprint covering 160+ countries. According to Marco Liccardo, IVECO’s Chief Technology and Digital Officer, the two companies also already share relationships and critical component suppliers. Lastly, both companies clearly share a sustainable vision for the future of autonomous vehicle technology and commercial trucking.
If we want to see more sustainable energy sources become the norm, companies like Plus, Cummins and IVECO need to show automakers, trucking companies and the business world that sustainable technology and practices don’t have to be cumbersome. In fact, they can be very profitable in the long run. On paper, these partnerships look like they will produce just the sort of efficient, earth-friendly autonomous trucking solutions to tip the scales in that direction.
Partnerships are a sure strategy for accelerating emergent technologies like autonomous driving, which involve a lot (pardon the pun) of moving parts. Plus is doing a good job, in my opinion, of finding companies whose expertise compliments PlusDrive in areas where Plus itself does not play (and vice versa). As the old saying goes, two heads are better than one. I look forward to seeing the fruits of these collaborations.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.