How AI is shaping the world and being applied in autonomous trucking to revolutionize the freight industry, and where we are in the AI adoption curve
Plus CEO David Liu recently joined a thought-provoking panel discussion at Milken Institute’s 2020 Asia Summit — The AI Edge: Advancing Beyond Automation. Topics discussed included key real-world applications of AI over the next decade, status of AI implementation or commercialization, and more. Highlights below have been edited for brevity and clarity.
John Artman (Moderator): What is it going to take for AI to be something that’s there in the background like electricity? What’s the application that’s really going to make AI mainstream?
David: One thing that’s interesting about humans is that we are more cognizant of the quality changes, although quantity changes happen every day. This is the case particularly in the AI space. Advancements in AI are driven by a few factors known as computing power, big data and algorithms, etc. These breakthroughs are generational. The advancement in deep learning happened along with cloud computing and significant improvement in computing power. These brought out a whole set of potential applications that have qualitatively changed our lives all of a sudden.
In the realm of transportation, which Plus has been focusing on, the driver-assistance systems such as automatic emergency brakes and lane departure warnings have been there for decades. Over the last 10 years or so, these technologies got significantly better qualitatively and adopted at a dramatically wider scale. More and more people started to use them; more diverse scenarios can be handled; and driving behavior has been changed by these systems.
At some point, we’ll see billions of miles of driving data accumulated from these systems prove that the systems have become safer than human drivers. That’s when we’ll see AI-powered driverless vehicles deployed everywhere. This won’t happen overnight. It’ll be a natural progression from technology development to technology adoption in every area — transportation, security, medical information, and others — where we see technology pushing the boundaries and eventually making a dramatic impact on our lives.
John: Your company is focused on practical applications of artificial intelligence. Why trucking and why trucking now in terms of autonomous driving?
David: We believe that trucking is an area where AI can have an incredibly positive impact.
As we looked across all the different places where AI and autonomous technology could be applied, trucking was really the best fit when it comes to technology capabilities to address some of the core problems. There are a critical driver shortage and massive turnover in this country. It’s also one of the most dangerous jobs. Each year, in the U.S., trucks are involved in more than 100,000+ accidents and over 4,000 deaths. In terms of the benefits, adding autonomy to trucks with drivers in will tremendously improve safety, fuel efficiency and driver comfort, making their lives better and easier. As we get to full Level 4 driverless trucking, there will be opportunities for big cost savings and reduction in transit time.
Meanwhile, trucking is a giant market — it’s a $600 billion industry in the US. The idea of autonomous trucks holds an immense capacity for saving lives and improving the competitiveness of the economy. That’s why Plus chose to focus on autonomous trucking.
John: Where are you in terms of the actual rollout? How long do you think it’s going to be before autonomous trucking is normalized and becomes mainstream?
David: From a technology point of view, Plus has demonstrated that technology can be used to drive a truck and cross the entire U.S. within three days with no human intervention, which is what we did last year on behalf of Land O’ Lakes, autonomously transporting a truckload of butter coast-to-coast.
Applying that technology at scale will take years; it might take longer to completely remove drivers. So what Plus is focused on is to leverage AI technology to help our truck drivers today and make their jobs safer and better. We work with the largest truck OEMs and fleets to integrate our technology to their vehicles. We’ve secured customers in both China and U.S. to adopt our automated trucking products this year, and then we’ll have a broader rollout next year.