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Self-Driving Big Rigs Are Coming. Is America Ready?


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Some of the companies involved say they will have the first trucks without drivers in the cab on America’s highways by the end of next year. Those include Aurora, which has partnerships with FedEx and Werner Enterprises, and TuSimple, which has join

Credit: Clara Mokri/The Wall Street Journal

Some day in the next few years, if you're on the right stretch of highway in America's Sunbelt, you are likely to have the disconcerting experience of pulling alongside a fully loaded semi truck, glancing at the cab, and seeing no one behind the wheel at all.

Unless you look closely, the truck you're likely to see will look very much like a regular big rig. It will still have a steering wheel—twitching, as if moved by ghostly hands. It will also have those oversize rearview mirrors trucks have, only these will be even more exaggerated in scale, since they will double as mounts for sensors—including radar, lidar, and cameras—that help the truck see things even an experienced human driver might miss.

This truck won't be as smart or adaptable as a human, but it will have superhuman senses, and won't need to rest. What's more, it won't be susceptible to many of the pitfalls that have made autonomy in passenger vehicles largely a disappointment, with companies blowing past one self-imposed deadline after another. While the self-driving passenger-vehicle industry struggles to gain traction despite decades and tens of billions of dollars in investment, proponents of self-driving trucks say they could be here—and making money for their operators in commercial services—much sooner.

From The Wall Street Journal
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