We’ve seen a lot of electric vehicle growth and success stories in the past several years, but one area that’s been a bit of a letdown has been the semi truck market. Unfortunately, we still don’t have the Tesla Semi, and it was recently delayed until 2022, and a big side area of that market that “futurists” have long been excited about is potential self-driving trucks. Platoons of self-driving semi trucks are especially exciting since tight, train-like caravans of semi trucks would use far less energy than the current system, and those trucks could much more easily be cost-competitive electric trucks with zero tailpipe emissions. Anyway, though, we’re getting ahead of ourselves again.
The news this week is that the company “Plus” (formerly called Plus.ai, which I have to admit I like much more) recently completed a demo of driverless Level 4 driving on the highway. Promising.
That said, let’s keep a couple of things in mind. First of all, we’ve had a lot of driverless truck demos over the years. It seems that it’s orders of magnitude easier to perform a demo than to create a truly market-ready, commercially competitive self-driving vehicle product. Secondly, Plus “recently announced its proposed business combination with Hennessy Capital Investment Corp. V (NASDAQ: HCIC).” That’s right, it’s another tech/transportation startup that is cashing out to some extent by going public through the back door. (Is the back door simply the front door at this point?) Naturally, as much hype as you can get before the proposal goes through, the better. And I wouldn’t say a short demo is the gold standard of inspirational hype.
With the caveats and small slights out of the way, it is cool to see that another startup is on the march toward full self-driving long-distance shipping and transport. Maybe Plus has what it takes to go far. (Bad pun somewhat intended.)
The driverless demo took place “on the Wufengshan highway in China’s largest economic center of Yangtze Delta.” It involved a newly built highway (which, again, is not the most confidence-inspiring detail) and a special permit. On the plus side (sorry, I’m in a mood), Plus was the first company to get this kind of special permit in China.
Will Plus be all over the highway soon without anyone in the driver’s seat, spooking human drivers out and coasting through ghost towns? We’ll see. “Plus expects to launch pilot operations of a fully driverless truck for use in a dedicated environment in 2022,” the company writes. “Plus is also applying the Level 4 technology used in the driverless demo to deploy a commercial driver-in product for semi trucks called PlusDrive. PlusDrive can either be a standard configuration of newly built trucks or added to existing trucks in order to help make long-haul trucking safer, more efficient, more comfortable, and better for the environment.
“Customers of PlusDrive include some of the world’s largest fleets. The first customer delivery of PlusDrive started in February 2021 and mass production of the FAW J7 L3 truck powered by PlusDrive is expected to start in the third quarter of 2021.”
We’ll keep our eyes peeled for more news on this company’s developments.