This Pittsburgh startup wants to put autonomous trains of semi trucks on the road

Locomation says they’ll be ready before you can hail a self-driving taxi.

MJ Slaby

Updated 2:15 p.m. March 17

What if two semi trucks could be controlled by one driver? A new Pittsburgh-based startup is ready to start testing its autonomous technology to make that a reality.

Locomation was founded by five autonomy experts from Carnegie Mellon University, all of whom worked at the National Robotics Engineering Center of CMU’s Robotics Institute.

The company is adding its technology to four trucks, and CEO Çetin Meriçli said the company will soon start testing its platooning technology on closed test tracks in the Pittsburgh area. And in the second half of 2019, he hopes to expand testing to public streets.

Platooning allows for multiple vehicles to be linked together in an autonomous train, bound not by a physical connection, but a wireless one. So while state law requires a driver in each vehicle, only the one in the lead vehicle would be actually driving, while the others follow with an autonomous connection.

In October, Pa. lawmakers passed a bill to allow for platooning of up to three automated buses, military vehicles or tractor-trailers on some highways and interstates starting this spring.

And with Locomation’s technology called “autonomous relay convoying,” trucks would be manually driven until they reach a highway where the convoy link is possible. Then, the lead driver would operate both trucks, while the second driver would be considered “off-duty.” Right now, the company is focused on convoys of two trucks, Meriçli said.