Contributing author Joey Slaughter is the owner of Blue Ridge Transport, LLC. A Ringgold, VA based carrier. Joey started his company in 2010 after serving time as an unhappy employee with a local trucking company. The time spent there was not fun but, in hindsight, was a turning point that propelled Joey into the wonderful world of being an entrepreneur. Please visit JoeySlaughter.net for more insightful blogging.
Maybe you’re like me and the name “Otto” just appeared in your newsfeed out of nowhere. The only Otto I knew of was Sarge’s dog in the Beetle Bailey comic strip. However, in this case, Otto is the company that just announced their entrance into the trucking industry. They are not only a technology company vowing to contribute to the great quest for autonomous trucks, but they’ve announced their intent to retrofit existing trucks already in operation.
In case you’re ready to dismiss their project- don’t. Their company was founded by four former high-level Google employees. One of the founders, Anthony Levandowski was one of the lead engineers for the Google driverless car. The safety record of his Google project was above average to say the least.
In fact, it’s well beyond the capability of average human operation. According to a Google spokesman, the vehicle had traveled over 1.8 million miles without an at-fault crash. That’s the kind of expertise Otto is bringing to the autonomous truck challenge.
Their short term goals are to assist truckers with an “auto pilot” mode so the driver can relax and let Otto worry about traffic for a while. However, the long term goals are to operate the trucks without a human present. Their blog or website doesn’t specifically say that, but we know where the future is going. Large trucking companies who are already struggling to recruit and retain drivers aren’t going to purchase this technology unless they can become more safe and efficient. By reducing their driver force and labor costs, they will definitely become more efficient. If they don’t adapt to this new technology, there will be tech companies like Otto that will start getting into the trucking business themselves. Apple is building and developing their own car now because they’ve identified a weakness in the market. They can exploit these technological “soft spots” with the major auto makers and can leverage their advances in tech to quickly get on the same playing field as Ford and GM. Thanks to Otto, you can expect that to happen to trucking as well.