Plus.ai completes cross-country autonomous freight delivery

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On Tuesday, self-driving truck company Plus.ai announced one of its vehicles had completed a fully autonomous coast-to-coast delivery. The firm successfully transported over 40,000 pounds of Land O’ Lakes butter from Tulare, California to Quakertown, Pennsylvania. Notably, the company’s refrigerated tractor-trailer completed the entire 2,800-mile journey without the safety driver ever having to engage.

Cross-Country Delivery Details

In a press release, Plus.ai detailed the reasons why its cross-country delivery represents a new achievement in the self-driving vehicle field. For one thing, the startup’s autonomous semi-truck made the journey from California to Pennsylvania in just three days.

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The company attributes the efficiency of the run to the quality of its Level 4 self-driving system. The Society of Automotive Engineers notes automobiles with that degree of functionality should be able to operate sans driver intervention in most circumstances. The startup’s long-range delivery vehicles appear to meet that standard.

Plus.ai semi-truck completed the Land O’ Lakes delivery run with stops made for refueling and federally mandated rest breaks. Moreover, the startup’s system proved capable of adjusting to several real-world obstacles. The self-driving freight transport handled high winds, rain, snow, tolls, and road construction without issue.

Furthermore, though the company’s semi-truck featured both the safety driver and systems engineer, the pair never needed to take manual control of the vehicle.

Although Plus.ai only completed one cross-country delivery, its client expressed satisfaction with the operation. Land O’Lakes Chief Supply Chain Officer Yone Dewberry said, “To be able to address this peak demand with a fuel- and cost-effective freight transport solution will be tremendously valuable to our business.”

In July, the American Trucking Associations reported U.S. industry is facing a 60,800 freight driver shortage. Plus.ai’s autonomous vehicles might offer a solution to that severe labor shortage.

Plus.ai Self-Driving System Details

With its big announcement, Plus.ai also revealed key information regarding the technology it uses to power its autonomous vehicle operations. The firm’s self-driving system utilizes deep learning visual algorithms, a multimodal sensor fusion, and simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) tech.

As Plus.ai chip supplier Nvidia explains, SLAM platforms allow self-driving vehicles to synthesize GPS and sensor data.

While global positioning system (GPS) maps are great for navigation, an autonomous operator is required to use them. For instance, a GPS can tell a driver the fastest route between two points but can’t account for road work. Conversely, self-driving AI works best when informed by vast quantities of topographical data.

SLAM platforms use GPS information as a guide but also harness computer vision technology to account for real-world conditions.

Accordingly, Plus.ai’s SLAM solution charted and followed the most expeditious route crossing 13 states. Moreover, it had the processing capability to adjust for heavy rainfall, icy streets, and lane closings.

In August, the Cupertino, California-based startup secured $200 million in Series B funding to further develop its offerings. Back then, the firm’s most significant delivery run was a 1,140-mile freight delivery between San Francisco and Las Vegas. Having now made a coast-to-coast perishable goods transport, it’s fair to say Plus.ai made good use of its last cash infusion.

Also, with corporations ranging from Walmart to Domino’s to UPS interested in autonomous delivery, Plus.ai likely won’t hurt for clients anytime soon.

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