Butter in tow, Plus.ai completes cross-country commercial freight run

The self-driving truck startup hauled tubs of Land O’Lakes butter from Tulare, California, to Quakertown, Pennsylvania.

Butter in tow, Plus.ai completes cross-country commercial freight run

Linda Baker, Staff Writer 
2019 12 10

Hauling tubs of Land O’Lakes butter, Plus.ai has completed what the autonomous trucking company claims is the first cross-country Level 4 commercial pilot.

The trip took place the week before Thanksgiving, Shawn Kerrigan, COO and co-founder of Plus.ai, said in an email to FreightWaves.

“There were zero disengagements,” Kerrigan said. “Beyond federally mandated breaks and refueling, our autonomous truck was running consistently on autonomous mode.”

A safety driver was behind the wheel at all times for the 2,800- mile  hub-to-hub stretch, which extended from Tulare, California, to Quakertown, Pennsylvania. The trip lasted less than three days, traversing Interstate 15 and Interstate 70 and passing through varied terrain and weather conditions.

The Land O’Lakes haul demonstrates the “safety, efficiency and maturity of our autonomous trucks,” Kerrigan said in a news release about the trip posted on Dec. 10. Those trucks are already delivering freight for other partners several days a week, he added, and continued advances will make it possible for similar cross-country trips to become the norm in the future.

End-of-year shipments are a busy time for Land O’Lakes, said Yone Dewberry, the company’s chief supply chain officer, in the release. “To be able to address this peak demand with a fuel- and cost-effective freight transport solution will be tremendously valuable to our business.”

The vehicle carrying the Land O’Lakes shipment was equipped with Plus.ai’s advanced autonomous driving system, which utilizes multimodal sensor fusion, deep learning visual algorithms and simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) technologies.

The truck navigated driving day and night, across the Rockies, road construction, miles-long tunnels, elevations over 11,000 feet, and along rainy and snowy roads.

Founded in 2016 by a group of Stanford classmates, Plus.ai is one of a handful of trucking startups seeking to automate the long-haul. The company has operations in California and China and has been testing vehicles in both countries.

Plus.ai’s cross-country haul comes a few months after the company announced a joint venture with FAW Jiefang, China’s largest truck manufacturer, to develop self-driving big rigs for the world’s most populous country.

The new venture is launching its first product, the FAW J7 Level Two truck, with plans to bring a full Level Four heavy-duty truck to market in three to five years.

In addition to its business relationship with FAW, Plus.ai claims as a partner Softbank- and Google-backed FullTruck Alliance, a Chinese freight-matching platform that controls 80% of the country’s trucking market.