“Everyone was chasing the wrong dream by overlooking the humans,” says tech visionary turned practical innovator, Anthony Levandowski. He has moved on from the holy grail of “driverless trucks” and “Level 5 technology,” to creating an after-market, Level 2 driver-assist system, bringing to trucks the enhanced safety features available on high-end cars. He discussed his changing views and new product at Transparency 19, a freight technology conference this week at the Georgia International Conference Center in Atlanta.
Levandowski is well known for his work in the field of autonomous vehicle tech but now believes that innovation in Level 2 safety systems with enhanced cruise control, braking and steering will add immediate value to the market. His new company, Pronto, has developed CoPilot, a camera-based software system that sells for around $5,000 and is being currently tested by several fleets and drivers with early enthusiastic reaction. Ease of driving and amped up safety features adds value for both driver retention and safety outcomes. Levandowski says he’s moved into a segment that he says has been complacent compared to the auto industry innovations and says he “imagines a world where his product will be a standard feature on every truck.”
The road back from the future has been a twisty one for Levandowski, who founded the self-driving truck start-up Otto (acquired by Uber) and worked for the autonomous division of Google, now called Waymo. He became embroiled in a lawsuit between Waymo and Uber that was ultimately settled for $245 million in favor of Waymo, who claimed that Levandowski and Uber coordinate to steal autonomous engineering tech.
He says he’s learned hard lessons over the last 15 years but is eager to start shipping his new product, which he says will make an immediate impact on safety. “I’m creating an evolutionary set [by] building a business that makes sense,” he says, adding it “is better than the mythical idea of having a truck with nobody in it.”