Aurora Innovation—which is operating self-driving trucking pilot routes between Dallas and Houston and between Fort Worth and El Paso—has released Aurora Driver Beta 5.0, the latest version of its integrated hardware and autonomy system. The new system will be implemented in its autonomous trucking fleet in Texas.
“We’re already demonstrating the value an autonomous trucking product can bring to our pilot customers as we continue to deliver loads across Texas each day,” Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson said in a statement. “Launching our latest beta release moves Aurora one step closer to a commercial-ready product and helps to prepare us for the scaled deployment of Aurora Horizon across the country.”
While the trucks—based on PACCAR’s Peterbilt 579M—are driven autonomously, operators in the cab are accompanying each truck in the pilot fleet, ready to assist if needed, Aurora said.
But down the road, the trucks may one day be rolling without a human inside. “We expect to pull the driver and launch our trucking service, Aurora Horizon, in late 2024,” the company said.
Hauling freight autonomously for FedEx, Uber Freight, Werner, and Schneider
The company said that with a more performant Aurora Driver, it continues toward commercial launch and increases its weekly hauls of freight for pilot customers including FedEx, Uber Freight, Werner, and Schneider.
Earlier this month, Aurora Innovation and Uber Freight expanded their autonomous trucking pilot program with a new weekly self-driving trucking route between Fort Worth and El Paso.
The 600-mile “lane” across Texas launched in October, the companies said. The companies are using the new route to autonomously haul goods for Veritiv, a leading Fortune 500 distributor of packaged goods. The packages are going to customers in El Paso and New Mexico, including retailers, schools, and hospitals.
Earlier, Aurora announced it was opening autonomous vehicle terminals in Fort Worth and El Paso to bolster its partnership with Omaha-based Werner Enterprises, with autonomously driven loads hauled between the two cities.
Detecting emergency vehicles and responding appropriately
Aurora says that safe and reliable autonomous driving is essential to launch commercial operations at scale. The company said that Aurora Driver Beta 5.0 unlocks key safety-critical and increasingly complex highway driving capabilities, enabling the Aurora Driver to autonomously operate in more scenarios. These new capabilities include:
- Detecting and appropriately responding to emergency vehicles like ambulances, fire engines, and law enforcement vehicles.
- Safely re-entering traffic after resolving a system problem that prompted the Aurora Driver to pull over to the shoulder.
- Navigating lanes with temporary barriers, a typical scenario in construction zones.
The Aurora Driver is the autonomy system that underpins Aurora Horizon, the company’s subscription-based autonomous trucking service.
Aurora’s quarterly beta releases debut Aurora Diver’s new capabilities, which are reflected in the Aurora Horizon roadmap to commercial launch, and bring the system closer to “feature complete,” the company said.
Aurora said it expects to reach “feature complete” at the end of the first quarter of 2023, which will indicate that the capabilities required for commercial launch have been implemented in the Aurora Driver and all policy interventions have been removed.
Five beta releases in the past year added key capabilities
In the past year, the company introduced five beta releases, each one bringing Aurora closer to commercial launch. The first beta release introduced foundational driving capabilities such as merging and lane-changing at highway speed and unprotected left-hand turns.
Aurora built upon these in 2022, unlocking increasingly complex capabilities each quarter, including:
- Beta 2.0: Construction zone navigation – reacting to temporary signs that signal temporary speed limits, closed lanes, and the presence of construction workers.
- Beta 3.0: Fault Management System (FMS) – identifying and responding to a system problem by safely pulling over to the shoulder.
- Beta 4.0: Unexpected and potentially dangerous situations – circumventing debris on the road.
After reaching “Feature Complete,” the Aurora Driver will then undergo an extensive validation phase where its capabilities will be refined and readied for driverless commercial operation, set to launch in 2024. Aurora Driver Beta 5.0 is powering Aurora’s ride-hailing fleet, which continues testing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
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