It looks like highway trucking will be one of the first major applications for autonomous driving. Two days after Uber announced self-driving truck operations in Arizona, Starsky Robotics raised $16.5 million in a Series A round led by Shasta Ventures. Previous investors Y Combinator, Trucks.vc, 50 Years and 9Point Ventures also contributed in the round.
San Francisco-based Starsky also recently completed a seven-mile drive on a closed course without a human in the truck. The drive took place in mid-February on Route 833 in Hendry County, Florida, with no traffic. The 20,000-pound autonomous truck drove 35 MPH.
Starsky claims it’s the first company to publicly test an autonomous truck without a human inside. There have many successful tests of autonomous trucks with humans in the cabin. For example, earlier in 2018 Embark completed a 2,400-mile trip from LA to Florida in five days. In October 2016, an Uber self-driving truck completed a 120-mile drive in Colorado to deliver 50,000 cans of beer.
Here is footage of Starky’s autonomous drive without a human driver in the cabin:
After Hurricane Irma hit southwestern Florida, a Starsky autonomous truck, with a human inside the cabin, drove 68 miles without human intervention to deliver water and help recovery efforts.
Starsky Robotics and Teleoperation
Starsky Robotics was founded in 2015 and has raised $21 million to date. It has 21 employees. Starsky said the new funding will help it take on the growing competition, which includes giants such as Uber, Volvo and Waymo.
Starsky is taking a different approach to autonomous trucks than the competition. Starsky’s trucks are remotely operated by humans when exiting highways and driving the local streets to distribution centers – and vice versa. Autonomous driving on highways is much easier than the first and last miles on public roads.
On Feb. 3, 2017, for example, a Starsky autonomous truck hauled 5,000 pounds of freight 120 miles on its own from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale and another 20 with remote guidance.
Seltz-Axmacher said this approach allows truckers to stay close to home. They will essentially become remote drivers working in driver centers around the country, while earning the wages of a long-haul trucker.
“If drivers got to go home every night, it’d be a lot easier to hire drivers — it would fundamentally solve the labor shortage,” Seltz-Axmacher said. “Any technology that doesn’t remove the person from the truck doesn’t solve the problem.”
Starsky is operating primarily in Florida due to its relaxed laws on autonomous vehicles. In 2016, Florida passed legislation that eliminated the need for a human operator to be present in an autonomous vehicle for testing purposes. The legislation also removed a $5 million insurance requirement.