Paccar and chipmaker Nvidia have built a concept self-driving truck capable of piloting itself through most driving conditions, the companies said March 16.
The Bellevue, Washington-based maker of Peterbilt, Kenworth and DAF truck brands has been showing off various steps in its autonomous-vehicle development for a few years.
The new proof-of-concept model attains what’s known in the auto industry as SAE level 4, meaning the vehicle is functionally capable of driving itself, but may toggle to human control in complicated, social-driving tasks like a traffic jam or highway merging.
The SAE scale ranges from 0 to 5, with 0 indicating no automation, and 5 indicating the autonomous system handles driving in all conditions. Intermediate steps include vehicles piloted by human drivers, but with various levels of computer assistance.
As with many concept designs, the companies didn’t say if or when a similar model would hit the road. That milestone would also likely depend on regulatory approval.
Automakers, high-tech firms and their suppliers are racing to develop the computer brains to power automated driving, as well as vehicles capable of heeding those instructions.
Boosters say that self-driving vehicles are safer than human-operated ones, whose drivers can be affected by fatigue and distractions. The logistics industry also sees self-driving trucks as a way to boost efficiency and ultimately get around what some say is a shortage of truck drivers.
The prospect of fully automated vehicles could also threaten to make redundant the jobs of millions of truckers.
The Paccar-Nvidia concept vehicle uses Nvidia’s Drive PX 2 platform, an automotive-focused computer packed with processing power and designed to process data coming from several cameras and sensors.
Nvidia, best-known for building chips that power personal-computer video-gaming graphics, is on a hot streak as it retools those powerful processors for applications such as self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Rival chipmaker Intel, which has a smaller presence in self-driving vehicles, on March 13 said it would spend $15.3 billion to buy Mobileye, a company that builds software for self-driving systems.