Self-driving semi makes first cross-country trip, thanks to Plus.ai tech

The semi hauled a truckload of butter from California to Pennsylvania with zero disengagements from the self-driving system.

Sean Szymkowski
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
Sean Szymkowski
Plus.ai self-driving semi truck

Beep beep, autonomous butter shipment coming through.


Shoppers in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, may like to know that the next stick of butter they buy may have come off a self-driving semi truck. Plus.ai announced on Tuesday that the startup completed a cross-country trip from Tulare, California, to Pennsylvania to deliver a truckload of Land O'Lakes butter.

According to the announcement, the trip took fewer than three days and accounted for the first time a Level 4 self-driving system handled a commercial freight trip. The cherry atop the achievement was the fact this truck carried perishable goods.

Plus.ai's suite of technology is called SLAM, a fun acronym for multimodal sensor fusion, deep learning visual algorithms, and simultaneous location and mapping. With this system, the semi handled 2,800 miles of driving "primarily" in autonomous mode. The startup told Roadshow there were zero disengagements for the autonomous system and the only time the human driver took over was for "federally mandated breaks and refueling."

It's a mighty achievement noting the things the technology needed to handle. The truck operated during the day and at night, and was unfazed by elevation changes and road construction. Rain and snow was also tossed into the mix -- inclement weather remains an area self-driving cars are somewhat unproven.

Many companies are itching to find efficiency gains in shipping goods autonomously. Without a driver, there's no need to stop a shipment for rest, bathroom breaks or food. The flip side of what the technology will mean for truck drivers is far less clear.

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