Controversial Ex-Uber, Waymo Engineer Launches Autonomous Trucking Startup
Anthony Levandowski claims to have already completed an autonomous, cross-country drive with his company’s tech.
Anthony Levandowski, the engineer who ignited a massive trade-secrets court battle between Waymo and Uber, has launched a new startup called Pronto.ai. The company, which just exited stealth mode, will focus on autonomous-driving tech, and Levandowski claims to have already completed an impressive feat under the project's banner.
A test car recently drove 3,100 miles between San Francisco and New York without any human intervention, according to Pronto.ai, which provided video of the alleged autonomous road trip. Levandowski was behind the wheel the whole time, and did have to take over once when the car failed to merge into traffic according to journalist Mark Harris, who was along for the ride and covered the story for The Guardian. The car was a modified Toyota Prius that used only cameras, computers, and digital maps to navigate, Harris wrote.
But Pronto said that, at the moment, its tech "can only assist fully attentive drivers." The company said it will use "state-of-the-art machine-learning algorithms" not only to control a vehicle, but also to monitor human drivers. Systems produced by Pronto will rely more heavily on software than the sensors prized by other companies. Pronto claims this will allow vehicles to achieve driving proficiency more easily and will work better in unusual circumstances, such as poor weather and construction zones.
Pronto's first commercial product will be Copilot, a driver-assist system for heavy-duty trucks. It's not surprising that Pronto is focusing on trucking—Levandowski left Waymo and launched his first startup, Otto, to develop autonomous-trucking tech. Otto was then bought by Uber, but Waymo claimed Levandowski used stolen trade secrets at Otto, and sued Uber over the matter. Levandowski was fired from Uber for not helping the company fight the lawsuit. Uber and Waymo eventually settled and Lior Ron, who co-founded Otto with Levandowski, still works at Uber, managing the company's trucking business.
Instead of putting its own trucks on the road, Pronto will sell Copilot to existing operators. The company plans to announce its initial customers in the first half of 2019. Uber is no longer developing self-driving trucks (although it is managing conventional trucks through Uber Freight), but Pronto faces competition from Waymo and startups like TuSimple and Einride.