Torc lays out roadmap to launch self-driving trucks in 2027

Torc lays out roadmap to launch self-driving trucks in 2027

Torc has tested its self-driving technology with a prototype of self-driving trucks at its R&D center in Albuquerque, New Mexico (Torc Robotics)

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Self-driving truck developer Torc Robotics is improving its technology and laying the foundation for self-driving fleet operations as it targets to bring its virtual driver product to market in 2027.

Daimler Truck’s independent subsidiary is paving the way for this rollout by conducting pilots with major carriers and outlining the details of how fleet customers will field and monitor unmanned commercial vehicles in the coming years.

Torc explained its commercial plans and showcased the progress it has made during demonstrations of its self-driving prototypes during a press event held November 13-14 at its research and development center in Albuquerque.

Self-driving trucks will enable fleets to move freight “faster, safer and at a lower cost” while also helping to alleviate long-standing driver recruitment and retention challenges, Torc CEO Peter Vaughan Schmidt said.

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By automating highway driving spaces between designated charging hubs, self-driving trucks can shift more driver jobs toward local and regional routes that provide more time at home and typically lower turnover rates.

“This technology really has the potential to address that pain point, reduce cost, and make goods arrive faster,” Schmidt said. “This can do good things for fleets but also for society.”

He suggested that the barrier to entry for self-driving trucking is relatively low. While the truck itself will be more expensive, the cost per mile will decrease significantly.

“If you buy a self-driving truck, the payback time will be less than a year,” Schmidt said.

Torc’s virtual driver will be available in a modified version of the Freightliner Cascadia with redundant systems and components specifically designed to support autonomous driving.

In the years since Daimler took a majority stake in the company in 2019, Torc has not deviated from its vision of unmanned trucks traveling between designated hubs on interstate highway routes as a first step to self-driving trucking.

“We continue to focus on one axis in the US, on the highway,” said Joanna Butler, head of Daimler Trucks’ global autonomous technology group.

Although this business model would require strategically located charging centers to serve as embarkation and landing points for self-driving trucks, these centers would not necessarily require huge investments in new infrastructure.

Alternatively, fleets can adapt or reconfigure existing terminals, distribution centers or warehouses near interstate highways on high-volume freight corridors to serve as independent trucking hubs, Schmidt said.

While the hub-to-hub model is designed to reduce complexity by reducing off-road driving, unmanned trucks will still need to safely handle difficult driving conditions they may encounter on the road.

During a 30-minute demonstration, Torc’s self-driving system was able to overcome situations that could be challenging for professional drivers.

Torc’s virtual driver will be available in a modified version of the Freightliner Cascadia with redundant systems and components specifically designed to support autonomous driving. (turk robots)

The 16-mile route, primarily on Interstates 25 and 40, includes several lane changes in moderate to heavy traffic, as well as a cloverleaf interchange, an intersection with a stop sign and a crosswalk.

Torc’s self-driving truck prototype, the Freightliner Cascadia equipped with software and sensors for automated driving, negotiated traffic while hauling a loaded trailer and traveling at highway speeds just below the posted speed limit of 65 mph.

The virtual driver waited for appropriate times to complete lane changes based on traffic in adjacent lanes and automatically established and maintained a safe following distance when a pickup truck cut in front of him.

Along the way, the autonomous driving system monitored and identified other vehicles on the road as well as a disabled passenger car on the shoulder.

As in all Torc tests on public roads, the self-driving truck had a safety driver behind the wheel and an autonomous vehicle specialist known as a “safety conductor” in the passenger seat.

The safety driver manually drove the truck from the Torc Research Center to I-25, then activated the virtual driver while merging onto the freeway. From that point on, the truck operated autonomously without driver intervention for the remainder of the trip until the safety driver resumed manual control while exiting the highway to return to the research facility.

To move beyond the testing and development phase and prepare for large-scale commercialization, Torc will bring its technology to market in phases and gradually expand its network of supported routes, said Andrew Culhane, Torc’s chief strategy officer.

He added: “We are looking at the offering process in stages.”

Torc will begin by removing the safety driver on the initial freight route in Texas between Laredo and Dallas to prove the economic viability of its self-driving trucks, Culhane said. This north-south route covers approximately 400 miles and corresponds to freight volumes generated by the close proximity of continuous production from overseas markets to Mexico.

Initially, Torc will own the autonomous trucks and axles in this first route and will manage everything from operations to maintenance. However, over time, the company will move to a model in which its customers own and operate autonomous vehicles themselves, while fleet operators or other third-party partners own and operate autonomous truck centers.

After establishing the Laredo-Dallas route, Torc plans to expand its network to include routes along I-40 and connect with key market areas including Phoenix, Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Memphis, Tennessee and Atlanta. The next phase of development will add regional expansion to El Paso, Texas; Houston and Shreveport, La.

Turk also identified a set of specialized functional tasks to support hub-to-hub autonomous truck operations.

The Axle Operator will handle the physical tasks involving the autonomous truck such as performing pre-trip safety checks, refueling, attaching the truck to the trailer and driving it to the launch position.

When the truck is ready, a “Mission Manager” will dispatch the self-driving trucks and monitor them remotely as they transport the goods. Torc said it plans to develop integrations with fleets’ existing transportation management systems to support the mission control function.

Self-driving trucks will also include new responsibilities and training for maintenance, roadside assistance and customer support technicians.

Meanwhile, Torc was already using its pilot fleet to transport freight through pilot projects with major trucking companies such as Schneider and CR England.

Schmidt highlighted a test flight from Phoenix to Oklahoma spanning nearly 1,000 miles with the truck arriving “with the last drop of diesel.”

Torc’s independent advisory board, which consists of major carriers, freight brokers, maintenance providers and other industry stakeholders, has provided guidance to the company on how best to integrate its technology into real-world shipping networks.

Schmidt said that the members of this council, at its last meeting, represented $90 billion in shipping.

“I’m not at all worried about commercial attraction,” he said. “We are shaping the future with them.”

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