Technology: Inside a self-driving truck with Torc Robotics
It doesn’t take too much to distract us from a task at hand. A loud sound, brightly colored billboard, or text notification can be all it takes to grab a driver’s attention. In fact, distracted driving is the number one cause of automotive collisions. Of course, even professional truck drivers, who strive for accident-free operation, could use a leg up when faced with a highway full of distractions and distracted drivers. Today’s advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) aim to address these kinds of mistakes humans are prone to making. From lane keep to predictive cruise control, OEMs are continuously pursuing a more efficient and cost-effective form of heavy-duty transportation and the recent partnership between Navistar and Nauto puts the industry even closer to doing so.
Through the use of advanced artificial intelligence (A.I.), Nauto has created a co-pilot for every driver that delivers real-time feedback and preventative warnings while the truck is on the move. Over 1.3 billion miles have been driven with the software to further enhance the system’s accuracy and abate the likelihood of alert fatigue and falsities. I had the chance to talk with Stefan Heck, founder and CEO of Nauto, to discuss how the integration of this new technology will impact the future of driving behavior.
FE: What makes this different from pre-existing collision prevention technology?
Heck: What we’ve pioneered is both adding the collision prevention piece, retrofitting that to a vehicle,but also using A.I. for something that hadn’t been done before, which is giving the driver real-time coaching and feedback while they drive.
FE: How does the system work?
Heck: What we do is we use computer vision on the outside to detect things like traffic lights and other vehicles and pedestrians, but we use the same computer vision technologies on the inside to basically, in real time, see what the driver’s doing.
FE: How will the use of AI enhance the system’s operations?
Heck: Think of us as an A.I. co-pilot that will selectively alert the driver. This allows us not only to prevent imminent collisions, but also to alert the driver when they fall asleep or when they didn’t see the pedestrian or red light or are looking down at their phone for an extended time. By alerting the driver very selectively to high risk situations, we are able to make them better at what they do. In our experience, drivers WANT to be good – no one wants to crash – and most of the risks a driver takes they are not aware they are taking that risk. Simply by highlighting it, 80% of drivers adjust on their own to become safer.
FE: How is this an improvement compared to traditional training courses?
Heck: Traditional safety programs kind of take a year or two to get 20, 30% improvement in collision rate. We can make that same change in one to two months. And we also see it’s not just 20, 30% reduction losses. We typically see between 50 and 80% reduction in collisions.
FE: Where does the device live?
Heck: The bulk of the device mounts to the windshield. It looks out at the road and inward at the driver’s behavior. The cable connecting the device to the vehicle runs down the side of the windshield and connects underneath the dash.
FE: Is the camera continuously recording?
Heck: We have the option to capture little snippets of video around a high risk event. So it’s not continuous recording or monitoring the driver the whole time. That’s a common misunderstanding, we don’t do that. It’s really triggered by either a risk event or the driver also has the ability to manually record something.
FE: How is the partnership with Navistar strengthening the production of the A.I software?
Heck: Navistar is one of the top Class 6 through 8 truck manufacturers. They have a very large footprint. The exciting thing is you can now get Nauto pre-integrated by the dealer into your new truck.
FE: Can it be installed into pre-existing fleets?
Heck: Adding Nauto is a very inexpensive upgrade compared to buying a new truck. It’s an attractive option for a lot of fleets. They can get the same safety capability that would come with the very latest and greatest truck model, but for the price of an upgrade.
FE: What data can fleet managers obtain from the system?
Heck: Feedback provided to fleet managers is entirely configurable. We offer a full range of options from simply seeing who’s a good driver and who’s not, but you won’t see video. More commonly, managers will be interested in seeing events above a certain severity such as collisions.
More from Nauto
For even more from the A.I. guru, check out the previous conversation we had with Nauto’s Chief Product Officer Yoav Banin: