Plus’s Level 4 autonomous trucking technology speeds transition to sustainable commercial transport

This article is part of a VB Lab Insight series paid for by Plus.

“Sustainable transportation is good for business and for humankind.”

Shawn Kerrigan, the COO and co-founder of autonomous truck developer Plus, will not mince words when talking about the environmental benefits of autonomous trucking. He and the rest of the team at Plus see a “safer, more sustainable future through autonomous trucking.”

And it’s gaining traction at the right time. Fueled by health and environmental concerns, policy makers are cracking down on pollutants emitted by medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles. Shippers too, are looking to integrate more efficient vehicles into their fleets, with the goal of cutting fuel costs and meeting increasingly stringent sustainability demands from consumers, investors, and regulators.

Autonomous trucks — and strategic partnerships that leverage their technology — will play an important role in helping the freight industry accomplish these objectives.

Regulation drives sustainable trucking

Despite significant improvements in vehicle emissions standards over the years, pollution from commercial trucks remains stubbornly high.

Nationwide, 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions comes from trucks carrying freight. In California, heavy-duty trucks emit nearly a third of all nitrogen oxide pollution, as well as over a fourth of diesel particulate matter.

As concern over these pollution impacts increases, state and federal regulators are expanding regulatory efforts aimed at slashing trucking tailpipe and greenhouse gas emissions.

California’s Advanced Clean Truck rule will phase out sales of fossil fuel-powered trucks by 2045. Fifteen states have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to eliminate freight truck pollution, while President Biden’s ambitious emissions reduction plans also are expected to accelerate the adoption of clean truck models.

Autonomous trucking is environmentally-friendly trucking

As regulations tighten, the autonomous trucking industry is ideally positioned to meet the demand for alternative, more sustainable shipping options.

Driverless vehicles are more efficient than human-powered trucks, slashing fuel expenses and reducing carbon emissions. Plus’s autonomous driving system, PlusDrive, uses Level 4 autonomous driving technology, but a driver remains on board to ensure the system is operating safely.

For example, Plus has shown in its pilot programs that PlusDrive can help fleets save around 10% in fuel costs. This is due to AI-generated algorithms that teach the truck how to control itself in the most fuel-efficient way.

Low-carbon fuels and smart technologies are other force multipliers helping to make autonomous trucking more sustainable. Plus recently announced a strategic collaboration with Goodyear Tire & Rubber to maximize fuel efficiency. The partnership combines Plus’s machine learning-based fuel optimization and Goodyear’s connected tire technology to further improve fuel economy.

“The collaboration between Plus and Goodyear enables us to leverage both companies’ innovative fuel efficiency technologies, and harness these to further improve the performance of autonomous trucks,” says Plus’s Kerrigan.

Sustainable shippers get on board

As the freight industry moves more stuff, and as climate change mitigation measures intensify, pressure to reduce emissions and trucking costs will only increase. Fuel efficient autonomous trucks are win-win, for the environment and the bottom line.

Sustainable shipping leaders are taking advantage of the benefits. Starting this summer Plus will partner with Schmidt Futures-supported Good Machine venture studio on a pilot program to extend both company’s sustainability impacts.

Good Machine projects tackle global problems caused by climate change and marine pollution.

Through a pilot project, trucks automated by Plus’s autonomous driving technology will help move equipment used for Good Machine’s efforts to address wildfires, food insecurity, illicit wildlife poaching, and illegal fishing.

The partnership launches with Plus’s autonomous truck hauling equipment from Winnemucca, Nevada to South San Francisco, California to be used for a wildfire detection project in California.

That pilot will use stratospheric balloon technology to detect fires early and report them to relevant authorities to help reduce catastrophic damage. Over the course of the next year, Plus will move other types of equipment for Good Machine sustainability projects.

Partnerships fuel sustainability

The Good Machine and Goodyear collaborations are just two that Plus has engineered with tech leaders to prove environmental solutions are best solved together. Plus’s joint project with Cummins will develop the industry’s first driver-in natural gas-powered autonomous trucks, creating a powerful sustainable transportation solution. The vehicles, to be released into the market in 2022, integrate PlusDrive with Cummins’ natural gas engine. The engine reduces smog-forming emissions by 90% compared to current EPA standards for nitrogen oxide air pollutants.

“Integrating Cummins’ state-of-the-art natural gas-powered engines into Plus’s industry-leading supervised autonomous trucks enables a new kind of transportation solution and offers customers even greater choices to meet their emissions goals,” said J. Michael Taylor, General Manager, Global Powertrain Integration at Cummins.

Plus is also jointly developing a Level 4 autonomous heavy-duty truck using IVECO’s LNG engine system, reducing carbon emissions compared to diesel. Plus’s Kerrigan says the partnership “will enable us to accelerate our commercial deployment and magnify the impact of our autonomous driving technology.”

Green, autonomous, and available

The idea of a sustainable autonomous truck is arriving sooner than some realize. Trucks powered by diesel and automated by Plus’s Level 4 autonomous driving technology are being delivered to customers already. Additionally, Plus’s partnerships with engine expert Cummins and truck manufacturer IVECO will put PlusDrive-equipped trucks powered by natural gas on the road starting in 2022. These collaborations will further improve the fuel economy of automated semi-trucks.

Pushing the industry forward, Plus allows fleets to tap the benefits now, and not years into the future. Although fully driverless trucks are still years away, Plus’s driver-in autonomous trucks are already on the road, helping fleets realize the fuel efficiency and carbon reduction gains today.

Across the supply chain, retailers, manufacturers, and logistics companies are demanding solutions that optimize fuel efficiency and reduce pollution and climate change impacts. With the help of key industry partners, Plus is leading the way for a new era of environmentally sustainable automated trucking.

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About Plus

Plus is a global leader in autonomous driving technology for long-haul trucking, headquartered in Silicon Valley and founded in 2016 by serial entrepreneurs and industry veterans who have extensive experience in high tech and artificial intelligence. Plus is developing low-cost, high-performance full-stack Level 4 autonomous driving technology to make long-haul trucking safer, more efficient, and more sustainable. Plus is also collaborating with leading truck manufacturers, fleets, and ecosystem partners to drive the development of decarbonization transportation solutions including autonomous trucks powered by natural gas. For more information, please visit www.plus.ai or follow us on LinkedIn or YouTube.

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