Self-driving car engineer drove cross-country without touching steering wheel

December 21, 2018

Ex-Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski could have dozed off as he made a coast-to-coast trip behind the wheel of a self-driving test car. He claims to have not touched the steering wheel of the car when it was on the highway between San Francisco and New York City, a 3,009-mile distance. 

The milestone trip was to promote Levandowski's Pronto.AI technology, which he started after his time with Google-owned Waymo. Levandowski's past is checkered with controversy, however. The former engineer was accused of stealing trade secrets at Waymo and leaving to start Otto, a self-driving truck startup company. Uber quickly bought Otto, and Waymo said the company took Levandowski's stolen secrets with him.

Post-lawsuit, Levandowski has focused on his latest company, Pronto.AI. To showcase the technology's potential, he set out on a 3,000-mile trip with the technology installed on a Toyota Prius, The Guardian reported last week. The car handled itself the entire time during the trip, and Levandowski only took control to stop for fuel.

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Pronto.AI doesn't want to start testing its own self-driving cars, though. Instead, Levandowski said the technology will form the basis for new advanced safety systems. His target is the trucking industry. What makes the system unique from other self-driving technology is it only uses six cameras to take in information from the road—but not lidar, which forms the basis of other advanced self-driving tehnologies. In fact, the engineer said lidar isn't what holds the technology back, but software to understand the vast amounts of data feeds relay back to the car.

In his company's technology, a computer stored in the trunk runs two neural networks to process the data. One network recognizes lane markings, signs, and other obstacles. The second actually takes the information and controls the car to operate the throttle, brakes, and steering.

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However, the system only works on the freeway and is not programmed to handle city streets, much like General Motors' Super Cruise system offered on Cadillac models. Pronto.AI calls its technology Level 2 self-driving technology.

The company plans to offer the system for $5,000 next year to install on semi trucks to make the lives of truckers easier.

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