Rise of the robot truckers: Self-driving big rigs could be coming soon to a highway near you

, Economic

An Otto driverless truck at a garage in San Francisco. An 18-wheel truck barreling down the highway with 80,000 pounds of cargo and no one behind the wheel might seem reckless to most people, even in an age when a few driverless cars already are cruising some city streets. But robot-loving Anthony Levandowski is betting autonomous big rigs will be the next big thing on the road to creating a safer and saner transportation system.

SAN FRANCISCO — Picture an 18-wheel truck barrelling down the highway with 80,000 pounds of cargo and no one but a robot at the wheel.

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To many, that might seem a frightening idea, even at a time when a few dozen of Google’s driverless cars are cruising city streets in California, Texas, Washington and Arizona.

But Anthony Levandowski, a robot-loving engineer who helped steer Google’s self-driving technology, is convinced autonomous big rigs will be the next big thing on the road to a safer transportation system.

Levandowski left Google earlier this year to pursue his vision at Otto, a San Francisco startup the he co-founded with two other former Google employees, Lior Ron and Don Burnette, and another robotics expert, Claire Delaunay.

Otto is aiming to equip trucks with software, sensors, lasers and cameras so they eventually will be able to navigate the more than 220,000 miles of U.S. highways on their own, while a human driver naps in the back of the cab or handles other tasks.

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