Torc Robotics, C.R. England to pilot autonomous reefer trucks

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Updated May 12, 2023
Torc autonomous truck
Torc Robotics autonomous truck at its testing site in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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Torc Robotics and C.R. England (CCJ Top 250, No. 29) announced a partnership Tuesday to pilot Torc’s fleet of autonomous trucks.

The collaboration will serve as an expansion for Torc, a Daimler Truck subsidiary, to support carriers in the refrigerated freight market. The joint pilot will leverage C.R. England’s temperature-controlled loads and Torc’s fleet of long-haul Level 4 autonomous test trucks.

“Torc is thrilled to be partnering with C.R. England to better improve long-haul trucking safety for one of the premium service providers and largest refrigerated carriers in the nation,” said Torc CEO Peter Vaughan Schmidt. “The data derived from the pilot will contribute to our safety and validation efforts and use cases for autonomous trucking.”

[Related: Ride impressions of a Torc autonomous truck]

Reefer carriers like C.R. England are an ideal match for autonomy, Vaughn said, since they make up a large segment of the industry and they’re delivering perishable items that need to get to market as soon as possible. Since autonomous trucks do not need to stop for mandatory driver breaks, they can make better time and help improve the bottom line.

“We think autonomy is made for this,” Vaughn said. “You have no hours-of-service limitation, which means goods can arrive faster, and that's exactly what’s needed in this segment and that's why we're so super excited about this partnership.”

C.R. England CEO Chad England sees autonomous trucks presenting more opportunities for customers and drivers alike.

“C.R. England is excited to announce our partnership with Torc for pilot activities on Level 4 autonomous test trucks. We believe this innovation will eventually provide the ability to expand our network safely, with high levels of service to our customers, all while enhancing the quality of existing driver jobs,” England said. “Specifically, by adding autonomous lanes to our network, we can expand our customer offerings and create more structured jobs for drivers at both ends of autonomous runs. Torc’s deep integration with Daimler Truck AG makes our two organizations a perfect fit for piloting this new technology.”

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Schmidt agrees and sees autonomous trucks taking on less desirable long-haul routes while providing more regional opportunities for drivers that want to spend more time at home. Torc’s model has an autonomous truck handling long stretches of travel between regional hubs where manually driven trucks will pick up a load and haul it to its final destination.

“I think autonomous trucks will always be augmented by manually driven trucks,” Schmidt said. “[Autonomous trucks] will probably do long-haul routes that keep you away from your family three weeks or so in a month, which a lot of drivers do not want to do anymore.”

Like England, Schmidt sees other opportunities coming up for drivers which may not have them behind the wheel.

“Some might also swap to mission control centers, so I think it offers a huge opportunity to do what you like to do most,” Schmidt said. 

This is C.R. England’s second autonomous truck partnership. Last month the Utah-based carrier entered an agreement with Kodiak to pilot their self-driving trucks to haul refrigerated loads for Tyson Foods.  

Initial planning for the Torc, C.R. England pilot will begin mid-2023 with on-road tests soon to follow.

The pilot program with C.R. England is Torc’s second pilot. The Virginia-based company announced its first pilot with Schneider last September.

“The partnership with Schneider has been a really great one,” Schmidt said. “I think both parties learn a ton and still today we continue driving that super long, thousand-mile stretch several times a week.”

Torc's announcement this week follows its recent acquisition of Algolux, a Canadian-based business that specializes in software-driven depth perception awareness for night, fog and snow.

"Snow is a challenge, especially if you have covered roads and super heavy snowfall," Schmidt said.