Pittsburgh-based Locomation, a company that develops driving trucks, unveiled its technology on Monday when state leaders were invited to visit the Lawrenceville facility.
Neil Weaver, Acting Secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development, and Steve D’Ettorre, Undersecretary of Technology and Innovation, visited the site, assisted by the administration of Prime Minister Tom Wolf through DCED’s Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority.
Through the Ben Franklin technology program, “it helped us grow our team and acquire equipment and technology parts” to further develop their autonomous truck technology, said Çetin Meriςli, CEO and founder of Locomation.
The Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority has invested nearly $ 2 million in technology companies across the Commonwealth in the Wolf administration, Weaver said. A Locomation representative declined to comment on how much the company received through the initiative.
“We strive to be spectators, but we’re interested in perspectives that we can really fulfill,” Meriςli said, noting that fully autonomous vehicles will last “years and years”.
Instead, their autonomous trucks operate on a unique model that follows the leader. The idea is that the two trucks will work together in a small convoy, Meriςli explained. A human driver would drive the vehicle he is driving while a second truck without a driver follows him close behind.
“Our autonomous tracker is constantly tracking where the main truck is and where the main truck was,” Meriςli said, adding that the system should allow vehicles to navigate obstacles such as work areas or accidents.
Legislation currently under consideration in the state legislature would allow it to do so, even if current laws prohibit driverless drivers. Finch Fulton, the company’s vice president of strategy and policy, said they were hopeful the legislation could be passed this summer, and said they were in favor of the measure.
The autonomous technology being developed by Locomation aims to improve capacity and efficiency in the trucking industry, while at the same time addressing the shortage of drivers and improving the quality of life of drivers, Meriςli said.
The convoys can travel 1,000 miles a day, with a time to drive 22 hours, he said. The goal is to have two drivers in each convoy: one driving the first vehicle and the other resting or sleeping in the second truck. This would allow the position to be changed after 11 hours, doubling the travel time per day, as truck drivers are allowed to drive more than 11 hours a day.
“We are already looking at doubling the capacity of the assets,” Meriςli said, adding that greater efficiency would also reduce the climate impact of inefficient truck travel.
Their model suggested a 22% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 21% reduction in fuel consumption and a 19% reduction in operating costs.
The company, which is celebrating its fourth anniversary, has recently grown from about 30 employees to 130 employees, including about 100 people working at its Pittsburgh headquarters, Meriςli said.
The company now has 12 trucks in the test fleet, four more than a year ago. Meriςli said they plan to add another dozen next year.
The company has contracts with Wilson Logistics, PGT Trucking and Christenson Transportation. Meriςli said the goal is to deliver the first trucks to Wilson by 2023.
They are currently in the testing phase.
Weaver, Acting Secretary of DCED, said that supporting autonomous truck technology could strengthen the truck industry.
“Trucks ship the majority of our goods, and with the rise in e-commerce, demand will rise in the coming years,” he said. “Automation is a way to increase production and employment.”
He called for automation to be adopted “in industries that need it most, such as goods.”
Locomation, he said, is “a microcosm of Pittsburgh’s story” and is one of many companies that have shown how the city can become a technology sector after its history as a steel town.