There are many technology races going on in the world today, including private space exploration, electric cars, and self-driving vehicles. The self-driving competition has recently extended to autonomous trucks, and unbeknownst to many, drivers are already sharing the road with these test mules, albeit with humans usually on board in case something goes wrong.
The people at Ike Robotics have a different approach to using public highways. In a 90-page self-assessment safety report Ike filed with the NHTSA, Ike describes a series of simulations and private track tests to get the company’s trucks to a level safe enough to merit public road use. Of the 16 of these safety reports that have been filed by different companies, Ike Robotics is the first to indicate it will refrain from any testing on public roads.
Several competitors are already making test runs without even having a human on board; one uses the Florida Turnpike and another is hauling mail between Dallas, Texas, and points in Arizona. Ike has trucks on the roads between San Francisco and Arizona, but they are manually driven, used to collect data and form scenarios for simulation. Ike believes testing simulations will yield the best results, using data taken from public roadways.
Ike has been making all of its testing and data gathering public in an effort to be transparent to the public. On its website it lists a complete inventory of its test fleet, license plate numbers, and VIN numbers of the tractor rig. Ike has also posted a map of all the roads that the manually driven fleet travels as well as safety and compliance scores from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Ike feels a transparent approach to sharing test information is the best way to encourage the public to trust the technology, and agree to share the road with driverless vehicles.
Ike will eventually test on public roads, but it intends to wring every ounce of information out of its current methods so as to minimize risk and maintain the highest testing standards.
While the scientific world looks to the stars and private space races and a driven desire to put a human on Mars may be the more interesting race will be to see who can make our highways safer right here on Earth.