Daimler partners with Luminar in autonomous truck pursuit

Daimler partners with Luminar in autonomous truck pursuit
Daimler Trucks is partnering with Luminar for its LiDAR technology that senses and perceives road hazards in autonomous driving. (Photo Daimler Trucks)

Daimler Truck AG is partnering with Luminar Technologies to integrate LiDAR sensing and perception software into Level 4 autonomous long-haul heavy-duty trucks. It is Daimler’s third move to acquire hardware and software expertise in driverless truck technology.

Earlier this week, Daimler announced a partnership with Alphabet’s Waymo autonomous vehicle unit to use Waymo Technology. Daimler purchased Torc Robotics, a Virginia-based automated driving technology company, in March 2019.

Daimler also is investing an undisclosed amount for a minority stake in Luminar. The com8-year-old company is going public in a $570 million reverse merger with Gores Metropoulos (NASDAQ: GMHI). Gores is a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) sponsored by the private equity firm The Gores Group.

Luminar, founded in 2012, has 50 industry partners. That includes seven of the top 10 global automotive manufacturers.

Working together

Torc is part of Daimler Trucks’ Autonomous Technology Group. Torc will work with Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) and Luminar to improve enhance LiDAR sensing, perception and system-level performance for Daimler trucks moving at highway speeds.

“This is a critical, enabling technology on our development path,” said Michael Fleming, Torc Robotics CEO.

Torc and Daimler will focus on deploying a Level 4 test fleet. They are redesigning the truck chassis for highly automated driving. That includes redundant systems for safe and reliable automated driving. The two also are developing testing protocols, extended software capabilities and a formal truck safety driver certification process.

Torc’s SAE Level 4 virtual driver system has been integrated and tested successfully in multiple platforms running on public roads from urban to long-distance highway routes as well as edge cases, such as rain, snow, fog and varying light conditions.

Rolling down the highway

Daimler is focusing on highway-based automation because those routes are more repeatable compared to city driving.

“[Luminar] has proven visionary in its focus and unique ability to enable long-range sensing and high-speed driving on the highway,” Peter Vaughan Schmidt, head of Daimler Trucks’ Autonomous Technology Group, said in a press release.

The Autonomous Technology Group is adding a new testing center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Public road testing with next-generation Freightliner Cascadia-equipped trucks will follow. Initial public testing began in September 2019 in southwest Virginia and on closed tracks at DTNA’s High Desert Proving Grounds in Madras, Oregon.

“Our partnership with Daimler Trucks is spearheading the next era of commercial transportation, taking the multitrillion global trucking and logistics industry head-on,” said Austin Russell, Luminar’s founder and CEO. “The business case for autonomous trucking is incredibly strong and now is seeing the first program to bring it to the world.”

Dual track approach

Pursuing its own autonomous development with Torc and Luminar is part of a dual track for Daimler Truck, said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst for Guidehouse Insights.

“Some customers may decide they want to use the Waymo system. Some may decide on the Daimler-developed system,” Abuelsamid told FreightWaves. “None of these systems are mature yet. So we don’t know who the winner is going to be.”

Daimler Truck could follow Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which started its relationship with Waymo by providing Chrysler Pacific minivans for upfitting with Waymo driverless technology. Leveraging lessons from Waymo, FCA offers an autonomous vehicle-ready Pacifica that any company can buy and add its driverless technology.

“For Daimler, even if internal development doesn’t work out to their satisfaction, they have a partnership with the leading developer of autonomous vehicles,” Abuelsamid said.


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