The Torc addresses autonomy issues beyond the scope of the truck
How will the “personalities” of dispatchers, maintenance technicians, and roadside assistance change with the arrival of self-driving trucks? Torc Robotics is working with major fleets to find out.
Torc differs from its main competitors in preparing to launch fully autonomous and integrated Freightliner Cascadias into commerce.
The independent subsidiary of Daimler Truck is moving deliberately. Aurora Innovation and Kodiak Robotics are aiming to launch their first commercial routes using self-driving trucks in late 2024. Turk is looking forward to 2027.
“I have great respect for other people in the industry,” Andrew Culhane, Torc’s chief strategy officer, told me in an interview this week at Torc’s test center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Most of us have been self-driving together for over 15 years. Everyone has a different definition of what marketing really means to them.
Culhane is the original “Torcer,” a nickname given to early employees at the company that then-graduate student Michael Fleming co-founded at Virginia Tech in 2005. Fleming stepped down as CEO after 17 years in August 2022, but remains Member of the Torc Board of Directors.
The Blacksburg, Virginia-based company became part of Daimler in 2019 when the truck maker acquired a majority stake for an undisclosed sum. The shift from focusing on technology and products to building a business began when Daimler appointed Peter Vaughan Schmidt as CEO.
“What would it actually take?”
“We go pick up a trailer. We get it from point A to point B,” Culhane said. Sure, we did something, but that’s not real marketing.’ ‘Over the past 12 months, there’s been less talk about the truck itself. Now (it’s okay), “What does it actually take to run these assets?”
“There are a lot of people who can move freight for you,” Culhane said. “It’s a question of can we enable the fleet to operate self-driving trucks?”
The arrival of the first fully redundant Cascadia chassis from Portland, Oregon, to the Torc test center at a former car dealership in Albuquerque addresses part of the question. The seamless duplication of brakes, steering, low-voltage power and other key components stands in where a human can take over in the event of a failure.
“10 different big pieces of stuff”
Culhane focuses on “10 big, different pieces of stuff” that need to be solved before Torc can scale its commercially profitable business.
“How can we move customers from left to right to where they can say, ‘Yes, I can own this asset, I can operate it, I can maintain it, and I know how to dispatch it.’ It’s plugged into my TMS (transportation management system). If you don’t answer “All these questions, this is not commercially ready. It’s the next great demo or it’s a brilliant pilot.”
The traditional jobs surrounding shipping operations will change. What new skills should a dispatcher acquire? What will roadside assistance look like? Who will oversee the self-driving trucks to keep them running as intended?
Helping clients benefit from independence
I think we’ve reached the tipping point which is: OK, the serious players will get there. Now they want to know how they will benefit from this.”
Torc is in the enviable position of having access to Freightliner’s market-leading Daimler customer base. Two of those customers, Schneider and C.R. England, conducted a 1,000-mile driver-monitored safety test from Phoenix to Oklahoma City.
Large fleets dominated by Daimler are just part of Turk’s business plan.
“When we talk about volume, there is volume with them,” Culhane said. “But the industry is much bigger than them.”
Three years of questions
It will take three years for Torc to influence and adopt standard policies, procedures and operating efficiencies for self-driving trucks. How do you connect and disconnect an autonomous truck? How do you inspect them?
“Putting these pieces together is where we think our part of the equation is,” Culhane said. “Then partners can step in and fill more.”
The Torc model is strictly center-to-center autonomy. But instead of creating its own transfer points, the company wants to utilize customer facilities. Both Schneider and CR England have facilities on both ends of the pilot route from Phoenix to Oklahoma City.
More carriers will park at their facilities when Torc begins moving freight 430 miles driverless from the U.S.-Mexico border city of Laredo, Texas, to Dallas in 2027.
“We don’t want to think of this as something the size of the Atlanta airport that everyone has to go through,” Culhane said. “We want to distribute that. Take Dallas-Fort Worth. To really reach that market without having 500 acres of property, you would need 10 locations around Dallas just to be able to be successful.”
Cola war with electric truck
Daimler Truck North America has delivered 20 Freightliner Class 8 eCascadia day tractors to Reyes Coca-Cola Bottling Company, a West Coast and Midwest bottler and distributor of Coca-Cola brands.
The beverage industry is a booming market for battery electric vehicles. Tesla Semi transports Pepsico products in California. Volvo VNR Electric transports coke products in Canada. BYD and Nikola have collaborated on beer tours for Anheuser-Busch ahead of the Super Bowl in Los Angeles in February 2022.
eCascadias relies on 20 Detroit eFill commercial charging stations installed at its facility in Downey, California. Reyes also uses Detroit’s Charger Management System, software that allows the company to know where its electric trucks are located and manage them to reduce operating costs.
Food distribution giant Sysco Corp signed a letter of intent in May 2022 to purchase up to 800 eCascadia tractors through 2026.
The e-trailer package delivered great mpg savings numbers in testing
Electric-powered trailer startup Range Energy reported that preliminary real-world test results conducted by third parties showed that its technology enables up to 36.9% fuel efficiency gains — 3.25 mpg — for semi trucks.
Testing was conducted on a 25.5-mile urban/highway track with a top speed of 60 mph and a gross vehicle weight of approximately 59,000 pounds. The stop-and-go and constant-speed scenarios took into account variables such as wind, climate, load, duty cycle and driving behavior.
“Achieving 36.9 percent efficiency improvements for the trucking industry proves how important overlooked trailers are to driving efficiency and reducing emissions in our industry,” said Ali Javidan, CEO and founder of Range Energy.
“Range is the first electric platform to actually demonstrate this level of efficiency benefit, and we expect these numbers to only improve as we begin testing with production quality parts versus prototype components,” Javidan said.
Network charging solutions provider Charge Point It replaced its CEO and CFO in a shake-up at the highest levels.
OEM European Trucking Iveco and independent trucking developer Plus will launch a driver-supervised pilot program in Germany in the first half of 2024 with the continent’s largest retail chain and DSVIt is a leading company in the field of transportation and logistics services.
Truck centers in california We will sell and service Class 4-5 zero emission vehicles rice Cab Trucks – Designed by Daimler truck – at six of its eight locations in California.
Orange EV It produced its 1,000th pure electric terminal truck. It has logged more than 11.8 million miles and 4 million hours over eight years.
4th Gen Logistics It is launching construction on the first phase of a plan to install 60 350-kilowatt chargers at its facility in the Port of Long Beach, California.
the Eaton cumin The Automated Transmission Technologies joint venture is making the Endurant XD automated manual transmission available in select Kenworth truck models in Mexico and Latin America.
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