Torc Robotics names new CEO from Daimler’s autonomous technology group

Torc Robotics will replace its co-founder with a Daimler Truck executive as CEO.

Peter Vaughan Schmidt, head of Daimler Truck’s Autonomous Technology Group, will take over from Torc co-founder Michael Fleming starting October 1, the company said Thursday.

Fleming will remain as a board member and strategic advisor, the company said.

Torc is a standalone technology subsidiary of Daimler Truck North America.

Torc, founded in 2005 by Fleming and other graduate students at Virginia Tech, initially developed autonomous technology to adapt vehicles for military, mining and agricultural applications.

Daimler Truck North America acquired a majority stake in Torc in early 2019. Schmidt played a crucial role in Daimler’s investment in Torc and has worked closely with Fleming ever since. Before joining Daimler in 2005, Schmidt was an automotive consultant at McKinsey & Co.

Focused on trucks

“I worked side by side with Michael and was unable to do what he did: he co-founded Torc and drove it for 17 years,” said Schmidt. Automotive News. “But I feel my experience managing large global organizations will take Torc to the next level.”

Torc is now focused on developing autonomous technology for Daimler’s flagship Freightliner Cascadia Class 8 truck.

Shortly after the investment, Daimler, Torc and Daimler Truck announced the Cascadia’s autonomous level 4 SAE test on public roads in Virginia. A level 4 system allows a vehicle to drive on its own in most conditions. In 2020, Torc began testing its autonomous technology on the New Mexico highways and later expanded to Texas.

With the support of Daimler, Torc has quadrupled its number of heads to approximately 600 and expanded operations from its headquarters in Blacksburg, Virginia to a test center in Albuquerque, NM, in 2020. This year, Torc opened an engineering office in Austin, Texas, and a test center in technology in Stuttgart.

Gain traction

The reshuffling of the CEO of Torc comes as autonomous trucking is gaining ground as the first avenue to commercialization of self-driving vehicles. Competitor Aurora Innovation said it is prioritizing the development of autonomous truck technology over the robotaxi implementation.

Other autonomous trucking developments include:

• Embark tested its large autonomous vehicles during the winter on snow-covered public roads in Montana.

• Einride has received regulatory approval to use its pod-shaped trucks on US public roads.

• Aurora and Kodiak Robotics have trained their self-driving trucks to successfully pull onto the highway shoulder when problems arise.

Integrated in the assembly line

Daimler Truck is also working with Waymo, the self-driving division of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, but in a very different capacity, Schmidt said.

“We are developing redundancy for all critical safety systems and then ship the trucks to Waymo, to which they add their sensors and software,” he said.

Daimler integrates Torc’s autonomous driving technology into Cascadia trucks on the assembly line, Schmidt said. And it’s specifically designed for Cascadia and trucking.

“It’s not meant to run on a robotaxi or shuttle or anything,” said Schmidt. “Only on our truck and to be the best possible application.”

‘First profitable application’

Schmidt said he believes trucking is the “perfect application” for autonomous technology. “It can run at highway speeds and deliver goods safer, faster and cheaper,” she said.

“It will add the capacity needed in the event of a driver shortage,” he said. “It’s just this weak point of what technology can do. I think we’re just scratching the surface on opportunities and I believe trucking will be the first profitable application of autonomy.”

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