Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer and serial entrepreneur who was at the center of a trade secrets lawsuit between Uber and Waymo, has taken his newest autonomous vehicle technology company out of stealth mode with a product aimed at the commercial trucking industry.
Technically, Levandowski’s involvement in a self-driving trucking company was first revealed by TechCrunch in July. Levandowski nor anyone else attached to the company would talk on record, leaving TechCrunch to rely on a paper trail instead.
Now, Levandowski is talking publicly about his company, including details on its mission and product, as well as a bold new claim of a cross-country autonomous drive. The Guardian was the first to report on details of the company and its cross-country autonomous drive, which was conducted in a modified Toyota Prius using only cameras, computers and basic digital maps. Levandowski says the autonomous car drove by itself the entire 3,100-mile trip without any human intervention.
Here’s the time-lapsed video of the journey. (Note the speed at which the vehicle is traveling at different spots like the Golden Gate Bridge.)
Back in July, TechCrunch reported that his company was called Kache.ai, according to paperwork registering it as a corporation filed with the California Secretary of State. That name has apparently changed to Pronto.ai, according to Levandowski, who posted a blog Tuesday on Medium. Pronto was co-founded by Ognen Stojanovski, a corporate attorney and research scholar at Stanford University who recently joined the company, TechCrunch has learned. Stojanovski headed up government relations and policy at Otto, the autonomous vehicle trucking company co-founded by Levandowski and several others that was subsequently bought by Uber.
Levandowski contends that this “race” to deploy autonomous vehicles has yet to start in earnest largely due to shortcomings from “crutch technologies,” a descriptor he uses for hardware like LiDAR and HD maps. His position is that while these provide sensing and localization for the vehicle in the present moment, they have serious compromises and don’t produce the level of predictive ability required to commercially deploy autonomous vehicles. (btw, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has also described LiDAR as a “crutch.”)
“We now find ourselves in a position where regulators, investors, and the public are waking up to the reality that nobody is ahead in the race to deliver autonomous vehicles because the real race is a marathon that has not yet begun,” Levandowski wrote. “The last 15 years we’ve mostly idled at the starting line.”
His company is focused on advanced driver assistance features built for Class 8 vehicles — those heavy-duty trucks that crisscross the U.S. carrying freight. (Trucks carried more than 70 percent of all U.S. freight and generated $719 billion in revenue in 2017, according to the American Trucking Associations.)
Pronto’s ADAS for trucks product is called CoPilot, a level 2 system designed to increase operational and occupational safety as well as increase efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint of commercial trucking companies. Pronto’s approach is in some ways similar to Comma.ai, a company founded by George Hotz that aims to bring to everyday drivers automated driving systems designed for highways.
Pronto combines the hardware such as cameras (no LiDAR here) atop neural networks for improved prediction. And that’s the big selling point, at least from Levandowski’s view.
The company plans to partner with carriers and deliver to them aftermarket solutions that are platform agnostic, according to the company. Pronto will announce its first customers in the first half of 2019. The company is offering this at a “special introductory pricing” of $4,999 per truck, a figure that includes bolt-on installation of its camera-based system, driver training and more. Pronto’s website says customers can pre-order with a deposit of $299.
“It will be the first stand-alone real product for a real market that the self-driving industry has delivered, and we are excited to be blazing the trail to the reality of how autonomous vehicles will ultimately come to fruition,” he wrote.
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