Self-driving trucking technology developer Plus.ai has announced a partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) that will allow the company to accelerate the adoption of autonomous trucks by helping prepare them for extreme winter road conditions.
A key benefit that is driving autonomous truck development is their increased safety. Large truck fatalities in the USA rose to an all-time high of 4,761 fatalities in 2017. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety there were 4,623 truck-involved crashes on the state’s road network in 2018 alone. Winter weather is particularly challenging for vehicles of all types. Snowy, slushy or icy winter road conditions are responsible for vehicle accidents that kill over 1,300 people and injure more than 116,800 others every year, according to the US Department of Transportation. More than 70% of the USA’s roads are located in regions that experience snow.
The new collaboration with Plus.ai marks MnDOT’s first partnership with an autonomous trucking company to test on the agency’s MnROAD cold-weather pavement testing facility. The partnership will include information sharing between Plus.ai and MnDOT around self-driving truck performance in the toughest winter conditions, in order to inform public policy discussions. The agreement with MnDOT will enable Plus.ai to test its autonomous trucks under extreme weather conditions, including heavy snow, sleet and other precipitation.
The testing program will allow Plus.ai to better understand how winter conditions affect the performance of lidar, radar and camera sensor systems, as well as the movement of its trucks on slippery road surfaces. Winter conditions are tough to handle for all vehicles, and snow is particularly challenging for trucks, which can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. The testing program will begin with Plus.ai mapping the MnROAD closed test track, followed by rigorous performance testing of the company’s self-driving trucks
Founded in 2016 and based in California with R&D offices in China, Plus.ai specializes in providing full-stack artificial intelligence (AI) self-driving technology to enable large scale autonomous commercial transport. The company is currently working with some of the leading truck manufacturers, shippers, and top fleet operators in the USA and China.
Located near Albertville, MnROAD is a pavement test track made up of various research materials and pavements owned and operated by MnDOT, working with its partners. The track is part of one of the most sophisticated, independently operated pavement test facilities of its type in the world. MnROAD has over 50 unique test sections on several roadway segments with thousands of pavement sensors located in each test section.
“Commercializing our self-driving trucks requires preparing them to drive in all climates, including the toughest winter road conditions that Minnesota experiences,” said Shawn Kerrigan, COO and co-founder of Plus.ai. “We are thrilled with this public-private partnership with MnDOT to test and harden our autonomous trucks for extreme weather, as well as to support public policy and infrastructure considerations that pave the way for self-driving trucks.”
Kristin White, executive director of MnDOT’s Office of Connected and Automated Vehicles, said, “As automation and emerging transportation technology evolve, we understand how critical it is to collaboratively share information and expertise with partners like Plus.ai. Learning how these vehicles operate in winter weather helps Minnesota advance safety innovation for everyone in the transportation system.”