Self-driving trucks already rolling on Florida highways

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You may be sharing the highway with a self-driving tractor-trailer and never even know it.  That's becoming more and more of a reality in Florida.  

Recently, FOX 13 was invited to tag along with Starsky Robotics as they tested one of the autonomous trucks on the highway. A human was behind the wheel, but only as a safety backup.

“There’s been a systemic problem in the U.S. that it’s hard to hire and retain long-haul truck drivers," explained Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, CEO and founder of Starsky Robotics. 

Our test took place in real-time traffic on roads like Interstate 95 and Florida's Beachline Expressway. Other drivers had no idea the vehicle next to them was being driven by artificial intelligence. 

“We're using the cameras around the truck to get a sense of where the other vehicles are. The radar gives us an accurate position of them,” Seltz-Axmacher said.

There was an overseer in an office monitoring our trip, but he was more than 100 miles away in Jacksonville, connected remotely.  The remote driver took care of the start and end of the test; however the bulk of it was autonomous. 

San Francisco-based Starsky Robotics is one of five companies perfecting autonomous driving in Florida.  The state has one of the more progressive policies for testing this emerging technology.

"We allow for tele-operation today, but the vehicle itself has to be able to accomplish the task of driving," said State Sen. Jeff Brandes. 

Brandes, a Republican representing Pinellas County, is among those leading the charge for self-driving vehicles.

"It doesn’t sleep. It doesn’t get distracted. It doesn’t text and drive. This is using sensors throughout the car to help the car make better decisions on the road. It’s exciting to see it take off," he said.

Much of our test was smooth, but what if there was some type of catastrophic failure?  How would the truck react? 

"The way we've designed our system is so that if any part of the system fails, the truck can still be safe. We have redundancies, but more importantly than that, we have in-depth tests that are constantly happening in the background," said Seltz-Axmacher.  "As soon as we saw that failure, the system would automatically start pulling over to the side of the road.”

While this may seem like science fiction, it's actually not so far off. 

"I think in the next few years we're going to see thousands and maybe even tens of thousands of autonomous trucks on the highway," Seltz-Axmacher added.