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.


Transportation Insight acquires LTL broker FreightPros

Transportation Insight pushes into LTL brokerage with acquisition of FreightPros

Transportation Insight acquires LTL broker FreightPros

Mark Solomon 
2019 12 06

Logistics provider Transportation Insight (TI) said Dec. 6 that it acquired less-than-truckload (LTL) broker Meridian Logistics LLC, which does business as FreightPros, for an undisclosed sum.

The acquisition expands privately held TI’s LTL brokerage offerings. It operates a truckload brokerage unit through its December 2018 acquisition of Nolan Transportation Group, which also performs some LTL brokerage. FreightPros, by contrast, focuses exclusively on LTL brokerage.

A non-asset-based provider, TI holds itself out as a logistics handyman of sorts, performing a broad range of functions — supported by a solid IT platform — to improve customers’ supply chains. TI operates across all modes. 

The acquisition is TI’s fourth.


Convoy closes out year of ‘multiple breakthroughs’

Riding a wave of innovations, the digital freight services startup ranked No. 3 on the FreightTech 25 list of most disruptive companies.

Convoy closes out year of ‘multiple breakthroughs’

Linda Baker, Staff Writer: FreightWaves

Riding a wave of recent innovations, digital freight network powerhouse Convoy moved up a notch on this year’s FreightTech 25, edging out Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) to occupy the No. 3 slot on FreightWaves’ list of most disruptive companies.

Ziad Ismail, the company’s chief product officer, said 2019 has been an especially fruitful year for Convoy, which netted $400 million in a Series D round announced Nov. 13.

“Over the past year in particular, we’ve really accelerated both the rates and impact of the innovation,” he said. “There have been multiple big breakthroughs we’ve been working on for several years.”

Ismail credited the Seattle-based company’s innovation model, rooted in small teams that  operate autonomously, with enabling Convoy to crack some of the industry’s most pressing challenges.

He cited as an example its Automated Reloads product, a feature that corrects what Ismail described as the “terrible problem” of empty miles, in which trucks drive with empty trailers.

Launched in June, Automatic Reloads prepackages a collection of loads that take into consideration criteria such as the carriers’ lane preferences, driver hours of service availability and facility wait times.

The platform reduces empty miles by 45% for many drivers, according to Ismail. “That’s something we worked on for multiple years to get right,” he said.

In February, Convoy solved another problem it had been working on for several years: automatically matching 95% of loads with no human intervention.

Convoy Go, also unveiled in 2019, scaled up a two-year-old pilot project. The program utilizes a Convoy trailer pool and allows owner-operators and small fleets to take advantage of power-only loads, maximizing truckers’ driving time and leading to more loads and higher revenue.

Coming in 2020

Asked about the next round of innovations, Ismail hinted at even bigger breakthroughs to be rolled out in the next three to six months.

Declining to reveal specifics, he said the new products will push further on empty miles and reducing waiting time for drivers.

“The problem space is going to be quite consistent for us: driving down waste in the industry. That is our North Star. That is what we measure all our innovation against.”

Solving the waste conundrum addresses the trucking industry’s huge environmental challenges, Ismail said, while also yielding an attractive business model.

Companies named to the 2020 FreightTech 25 were judged by an external panel of industry experts, with voting conducted and overseen by accounting firm Katz, Sapper & Miller (KSM).

Each member of the panel ranked their top 25 companies on a 1- to 25-point basis. The companies generating the most points make up the FreightTech 25.

Convoy closes out year of ‘multiple breakthroughs’