The commercial vehicle arm of Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler on Friday announced it acquired a majority stake in Torc Robotics, a company based in Blacksburg, Virginia, developing self-driving systems for multiple vehicle categories, ranging from SUVs to 300-ton mining trucks.
The deal, which is still subject to approval, will see Torc move into the potentially lucrative goods transport sector by working with the local arm of Daimler Trucks and Buses, Daimler Trucks North America, to develop a Level 4 self-driving system for use on semi-trailer trucks sold in the United States, such as those from Daimler's Freightliner and Western Star brands.
A vehicle with Level 4 self-driving capability can operate on its own for extended periods of time within set conditions, such as there being sufficient map data. And just like with cars, self-driving trucks rely on radar, cameras, and lidar but their demands are greater. Their mass needs to be taken into account, though, as does their different driving characteristics, especially when it comes to the articulation of their trailers.
The plan is to work closely with other Daimler brands on the technology. In particular, Daimler Trucks North America will leverage the know-how of Mercedes' self-driving efforts in the areas of sensors and vehicle control systems.
Unlike many startups in the self-driving space, Torc has been operating since as far back as 2005 and already supplies robust self-driving systems to defense, mining and agriculture sectors. The company has also successfully demonstrated its technology, known as Asimov, in heavy rain and snow.
“Torc is not a startup, but one of the world’s most experienced companies for vehicle automation,” Roger Nielsen, head of Daimler Trucks North America, said. “Torc’s Level 4 system has been shown to operate well for both urban and highway driving in rain, snow, fog, and sunshine.”
Torc has tested its self-driving system on public roads in more than 20 states and so far logged zero accidents. The testing included a coast-to-coast trip across the U.S. as well as driving in heavy traffic.
The latest announcement comes after Daimler in January said it was investing $570 million in development of self-driving semi trucks. However, even though Daimler demonstrated a self-driving semi as far back as 2015, there's still no word yet on when we might actually see one on sale.