$11B Invested into Data Collecting Autonomous Trucks; “And yet, there’s still not a true driverless truck—and may never be.”

By B.N. Frank

Warnings about totally autonomous vehicles NOT being safe have been ongoing (see 1, 3, 4, 5, 6).  Warnings about massive job loss from AVs from have been ongoing too.  Nevertheless, investors continue to invest in autonomous vehicles (see 1, 2, 3), particularly trucks (see 1, 2).

More from Wired:

Trucks Move Past Cars on the Road to Autonomy

Money is pouring into autonomous trucking startups, just as many are souring on the short-term prospects for self-driving cars.

In 2016, three veterans of the still young autonomous vehicle industry formed Aurora, a startup focused on developing self-driving cars. Partnerships followed with major automakers, including Hyundai and Volkswagen. CEO Chris Urmson said at the time that the link-ups would help the company bring “mobility as a service” to urban areas—Uber-like rides without a human behind the wheel.

But by late 2019, Aurora’s emphasis had shifted. It said self-driving trucks, not cars, would be quicker to hit public roads en masse. Its executives, who had steadfastly refused to provide a timeline for their self-driving-car software, now say trucks equipped with its “Aurora Driver” will hit the roads in 2023 or 2024, with ride-hail vehicles following a year or two later. This month, the company announced it would go public via a reverse merger, raising $2 billion in the process. “We have a team that really understands how hard this problem is,” says Urmson.

The move points to a growing consensus in the industry: If self-driving vehicles are going to happen, trucks will likely arrive before cars.

For evidence, follow the money. Investors have poured $11 billion into autonomous truck startups in the past two and a half years, more than $5 billion of that in the first five months of this year alone, according to the data and research company PitchBook. Aurora last week announced plans to go public, joining a convoy of other autonomous truck startups: Embark Trucks in June and the companies Plus andTuSimple in the spring. Competitors Waymo—a Google sister company—and Locomation are reportedly eyeing similar moves.

The investor enthusiasm for self-driving trucks reflects a view that the business case may be more appealing than that for self-driving cars, which companies have said will make their debut as robotic ride-hail vehicles. Traditional truck makers and carriers are signing deals with tech companies, signaling optimism in the self-driving future. And the pandemic showed just how vital trucking and logistics are to the economy.

“This is a snowball effect, and building steadily,” says Don Burnette, cofounder and CEO of Kodiak Robotics, another self-driving truck startup, which recently announced investments from BMW i Ventures and tire maker Bridgestone.

Another reason autonomous trucks may arrive before cars: For now, they’re only tackling the easy parts of self-driving, and they’re skipping some of the hardest…

And yet, there’s still not a true driverless truck—and may never be…

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