author: FutureCar Staff
A Torc Robotics Class-8 self-driving truck developed in collaboration with Daimler Trucks.
Virginia-based self-driving truck developer Torc Robotics is opening a technology and software development center in Stuttgart, Germany named Torc Europe GmbH. The Stuttgart team will support the ongoing development of SAE Level 4 virtual driver for deployment in autonomous trucks in the United States.
Torc Europe GmbH will be an independent entity and a 100% subsidiary of Torc Robotics.
The new office in Germany will also help Torc Robotics tap into the available talent pool in one of Germany’s primary automotive development regions. The 18,000 square-foot technology center has an additional 12,000 square feet that will be used as a workshop, according to Torc Robotics.
“Stuttgart is known as an area with a wealth of automotive and autonomous vehicle expertise. We hope to leverage this significant talent pool to meet our commercialization goals and support our mission of increased safety and efficiency,” said Torc Vice President of Engineering Mike Avitabile. “Collaboration thrives because of the partnership with Daimler Truck, a leader in the trucking industry.
Torc Robotics was founded in 2005 by a group of Virginia Tech students who built three autonomous cars to compete in the AUVSI Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition. The students placed first, second, and third respectively in the competition, which led the three to find the company.
Torc Robotics has been an independent subsidiary of Daimler Trucks since March 2019, after Daimler Trucks took a majority stake in the company for an undisclosed sum. The early investment was part of Dailmer’s commitment to deploy commercial self-driving trucks within a decade. Torc has remained a separate entity and is still developing self-driving technology on its own.
The partnership was the first between a truck manufacturer and a self-driving technology startup. The hardware and sensors for automated driving will be added to the trucks during the assembly phase, rather than outfitting the trucks after production.
The office is in Untertürkheim, in close proximity to an existing Daimler Truck R&D facility and near the Daimler Truck headquarters.
Torc Robotics is working closely with Daimler to combine its experience and expertise in truck manufacturing with Torc’s expertise in automated vehicle software and automated truck systems to help accelerate time to market.
“Torc is working closely with Daimler Truck to optimize the entire product stack including the virtual driver, sensing and computer hardware, and the redundant chassis to be the first company to launch a scalable and profitable self-driving product,” said Torc Founder and CEO Michael Fleming. “Torc’s Stuttgart technology and software development center will leverage the deep automotive and trucking technical and product expertise to make this a reality.”
Torc and Daimler Trucks are working together with the common goal of bringing SAE Level 4 autonomous trucks to the roads within the decade, which do not require human intervention to safely operate on highways. Fleming calls it “one of the most complex engineering feats of our generation.”
Fleming said the challenge is to reinvent the truck to accommodate a safe, scalable Level 4 technology stack, while at the same time, integrating it with a complex, interconnected freight network for greater efficiency.
In 2019, Daimler Truck invested a majority share in Torc, which was the first autonomous vehicle (AV) company to enter into a partnership with an original truck equipment manufacturer.
In addition to the facility in Stuttgart, Torc opened another 20,000-square-foot facility in Austin, Texas. In 2021, Torc added a 28,000-square-foot office space for its workforce at Blacksburg Virginia’s Corporate Research Center.
In addition, a test facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico opened in Sept 2020. The expansion of on-road testing to New Mexico followed a year of working together with Daimler Trucks on developing a foundational structure for the commercialization of self-driving trucks for freight delivery.
The Albuquerque location allows daily, multi-shift runs of Torc’s autonomous test trucks on freight routes in both New Mexico and Texas. The region is attractive for testing self-driving trucks due to its long stretches of highways.
Other companies testing autonomous Class-8 trucks in the Southwest US are TuSimple, Waymo and Aurora. The companies are competing to be the first to deploy fully-autonomous trucks at scale as a more efficient and cost-effective way to move freight.
Many analysts believe that fully-automated trucks will be deployed before self-driving vehicles designed to carry passengers. From an engineering standpoint, developing driverless trucks for long-haul highway freight routes is less challenging than building self-driving vehicles that must contend with urban environments packed with pedestrians, bicyclists, traffic and busy, multi-lane intersections.
“Trucking is the backbone of the United States economy, delivering food and products to every community in the country,” said Fleming. “Torc is working with Daimler Truck to commercialize self-driving trucks to make our roads safer and better, fulfilling our mission of saving lives.”
In Feb 2021, Torc Robotics announced Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its preferred cloud provider to handle the scale and speed needed for data transfer, storage, and compute capacity as the company prepares to deploy its fleet of self-driving test trucks.
Last year, Torc said its test fleet in New Mexico is already generating petabytes of data (1 million gigabytes) from tests on public roads.
The Torc Robotics test fleet is also growing, so is the number of routes, and sensor capability, has resulted in a big increase of data processing requirements for Torc’s engineering teams, which will now be located in both the US and in Germany.
Torc said its development team will utilize AWS for both low- and high-demand tasks, as well as data sharing across remote teams.