Torc Robotics unveils self-driving system
Torc Robotics has announced its development of a complete self-driving system for cars. The autonomous vehicle technology company first established itself in automotive autonomy in 2007, when its self-driving vehicle, developed in conjunction with Virginia Tech, placed third in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Urban Challenge. Since then, the company has grown exponentially, and developed autonomous vehicle solutions for the mining, defense, construction, and agriculture industries.
However, in 2016 Torc Robotics’ Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Michael Fleming issued a new challenge to his team: to develop a complete autonomy system for consumer vehicles. He said the automotive industry was ready, and it was time to reveal what a decade of progress with a winning team looked like.
Torc’s end-to-end software stack and decade of experience enables the self-driving technology to make complex decisions in real-life situations associated with SAE Level 4 automated driving. The company claims that all efforts and testing were geared toward refining this level of high automation, in which human drivers and intervention are not required when the vehicle operates in specified driving situations.
The company implemented its technology on two Lexus RX vehicles that began extensive testing in a variety of weather conditions on public roads in February 2017. The system uses Torc’s own solutions for localization, real-time navigation, mapping, and obstacle detecting and tracking.
In April, one of the vehicles demonstrated a long-distance drive from Torc’s headquarters in Blacksburg, VA, to the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit—the birthplace of the Model T—and then back. In a June blogpost, company engineers noted that the car performed consistently well along the way, logging a total of 1023 mi (1646 km) autonomously, from winding roads of West Virginia in the rain, to heavy traffic on multi-lane highways in Ohio and Michigan.
According to Fleming, the Ford Piquette Plant destination was selected for its historical significance. “We chose the birthplace of the Model T as our destination, because it represents the start of a transportation revolution,” he said. “Self-driving vehicles are the next revolution; they have great potential to enhance all of our lives.”
According to Chief Technology Officer Ben Hastings, the Torc team’s advantage is its tested ability to tackle the multidisciplinary systems engineering effort required to develop fully self-driving cars. “While a lot of startups may have interesting pieces of technology, we have a decade of experience delivering an end-to-end solution that actually works. This includes multimodal sensor fusion (vision, radar, and [Velodyne] LiDAR), and the use of both traditional autonomy algorithms coupled with newer machine-learning techniques,” Hastings said.
“We’re offering automotive companies a fully autonomous solution that can be implemented in real consumer cars,” said Fleming. “We’ll also work with them to implement the technology into existing systems.”
Torc plans to continue refining its technology over the year with continual testing and development of its system. Fleming said he is optimistic about the rapid progress of the project going forward.