Starsky Robotics successfully tests unmanned 18-wheeler on Florida highway



Starsky Robotics says that it is the first company to test an unmanned 18-wheeler on a stretch of U.S. highway.

Starting June 16, Starsky began testing a Volvo semi-truck equipped with cameras and radar on a 9.4-mile stretch of the Florida Turnpike in Orlando. The vehicle was connected to a Starsky “teleoperations” center in Jacksonville.

During testing, the truck performed several tasks, including navigating a highway rest area, merging onto the Turnpike and changing lanes, all while maintaining an average speed of 55 miles an hour.

“This is literally the first time anyone has taken the person out of the vehicle on public highway,” Starsky CEO and cofounder Stefan Seltz-Axmacher tells Forbes. The initial run did not generate any revenue, but Seltz-Axmacher says “probably the next time you hear about it it will be hauling a load.”

For Starsky, adding a remote operator, connected via cellular networks, allows it to move faster than other companies, as this provides a backup layer to handle potentially difficult circumstances, such as tricky lane merges on the highway, unexpected road conditions and picking up loads at warehouses.

A bank of video monitors shows the remote operator everything that the truck's see, and operators can take control of the vehicle whenever necessary using a small, video-game-style steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals and other controls.

“It’s easiest and most effective in places where driving is most difficult,” Seltz-Axmacher says.

Starsky Robotics wants to make trucks self-driving on the highway and remote-controlled by people when they are off the highway. Photo: Starsky Robotics