Skip to main content

A big rig just hit 55 mph on a Florida highway without anyone in the cab

First Unmanned Test On Public Highway

If you were driving along the Florida Turnpike recently and happened to see a big rig motoring along without anyone behind the wheel, then no, your eyes were not deceiving you.

A system built by San Francisco-based Starsky Robotics powered the driverless truck to speeds of 55 mph along 9.4 miles of public road earlier this month. It’s thought to be the first time a heavy-duty commercial truck has been allowed on a public highway without anyone behind the wheel.

Starsky CEO Stefan Seltz-Axmacher said his company is competing with the likes of Waymo and TuSimple — which still use safety drivers in their autonomous trucks — by taking a different approach to how it incorporates its technology into large vehicles.

Instead of developing entirely autonomous systems to steer the trucks, the company is using remote human drivers to navigate the vehicles along more complicated sections of road between the depot and the highway.

As you can see in the video at the top, the driver uses a bank of monitors showing live-streamed footage from a bunch of cameras attached to the truck’s exterior, and steers the vehicle using a regular-looking steering wheel. Yes, it’s a bit like a video game, except there’s a massive truck somewhere far away that you’re actually controlling.

“We know that today, humans are far better at navigating many of the nuances of driving than even the most advanced computer systems, which is why we use remote drivers to help the trucks at their most contextually complex junctures,” Seltz-Axmacher wrote in a recent post.

The CEO added: “We’ve built a highly reliable highway automation system which we’ve combined with a teleoperation capability that allows our remote drivers to navigate trucks between distribution centers and the highway. This novel combination of complementary technologies — significantly improved, verified, and validated — is what has allowed us to make history.”

You might be wondering what the point is of having a driver in an office when he or she can be in the actual cab, but as Starsky’s technology develops and automated systems become more common, the likelihood is that fewer remote drivers will be needed. With truly driverless big rigs still some ways off, Starky’s system could be a bridge to such a time, and help to deal more immediately with the growing driver shortage affecting the truck industry.

Since its launch three years ago, Starsky has been moving steadily toward its recent accomplishment of driving an unmanned truck at 55 mph on a public highway, having already completed driverless trips with safety drivers, as well as a driverless outing last year that saw its truck reach 25 mph on the same Florida highway as the recent test, although it was closed to other traffic at the time.

Moving forward, Seltz-Axmacher says the plan is to increase the frequency of the unmanned drives and expand Starsky Robotic’s fleet of trucks to become “the most reliable driver in your rearview mirror,” as he puts it.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Here’s how EVs charge as they drive on a stretch of Michigan road
Tech of the Week Electreon

Charging remains one of the biggest hurdles for mass EV adoption. Public charging infrastructure still isn’t extensive enough to merit driver confidence, and even the fastest chargers still require lengthy stops compared to refueling a gasoline car. But the State of Michigan and Israeli startup Electreon hope to prove that EVs can charge as they drive.

As detailed in a recent CleanTechnica explainer, the Michigan Department of Transportation is demonstrating in-road wireless charging hardware from Electreon on a quarter-mile stretch of 14th Street in Detroit. It’s being billed as the first such roadway in the U.S.

Read more
2025 Mercedes-Benz G580: range, price, release date, and more
Range of Mercedes-Benz G580 vehicles

Rumors about a full-size electric G-Class have been circulating for some time, but it's official now. The G-Wagon is going electric, in the form of the new fully electric "Mercedes-Benz G580 with EQ Technology." Yep, the name is a mouthful -- taking the name from the concept version of this car, the Concept EQG, might have been a better move. Bu, regardless, the vehicle is sure to appeal to those who want a G-Wagon while getting all the benefits of an EV.

Curious about the G580 with EQ Technology? Here's everything you need to know.
Design
The G580 retains many of the design aspects of the G-Class you already know and love, and while the concept iteration had some modern touches, like light bars on the exterior of the car, the real-world version looks pretty similar to the non-electric G-Wagon, though that's not to say there aren't any design changes whatsoever.

Read more
Don’t get stranded: The best portable tire inflators in 2024
The DeWalt 20V Max portable tire inflator at a construction site.

There’s nothing worse than getting stranded on the side of the road because of a bad tire. That’s why it pays to drive around with a portable tire inflator hanging out somewhere in your car or truck. These devices aren’t very big, and you probably won’t even use it that much. That being said, when your tire-pressure sensor lights kicks on, you’ll be happy you have it.

Here are five of the best portable tire inflators you can toss in your trunk for 2024.

Read more