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Nikola will make Plus autonomous tech standard

Nikola Corp. will test autonomous driving software from Plus on its battery- and fuel cell-electric trucks later this year and become the first zero-tailpipe-emission truck maker to make it standard in 2024.

Plus requires drivers in the cab as it opens up more autonomous features through its PlusDrive system. It is aiming for driverless operation. But it wants to log 8 billion miles of operation with safety drivers monitoring the technology before removing the driver.

The Plus automated driving approach goes beyond advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) features like lane keeping and automatic emergency braking. It includes lane centering, lane changes, merges and adjusting to stop-and-go traffic. Regenerative braking adds energy back into the battery.  

Multiple cameras make up an advanced sensor suite that fuses cameras with short-range radar and lidar. Plus describes the driver’s role as that of a pilot.

Off the highway, PlusDrive detects obstacles and traffic in blind spots, highlighting other traffic and the proximity of pedestrians in loading docks where near-silent electric trucks make far less noise than diesel trucks.  

“The proven commercial readiness of our highly automated solution PlusDrive accelerates the deployment for our partners and sets a new bar for safety and sustainability for the trucking industry,” David Liu, Plus CEO and co-founder, said in a news release.

Plus running in shadow mode

PlusDrive differs from Level 4 high autonomy being pursued by other startups. It runs Level 4 technology in shadow mode collecting data to help build PlusDrive’s acumen. 

The driverless promise by other autonomous software startups like Aurora Innovation, Embark Trucks and Kodiak Robotics could slice 40% or more of operating cost and the truck’s use could increase to 20 or more hours a day. A robot driver would be exempt from hours-of-service rules that limit human drivers to 11 hours in a 24-hour period.

The privately held Plus supplies PlusDrive upfits to an undisclosed number of Amazon trucks. As part of a special purpose acquisition company merger that fell apart in late 2021, the e-commerce giant could have received a warrant to buy up to a 20% equity stake in Plus in exchange for buying $150 million worth of PlusDrive systems. 

Nikola follows Iveco in testing PlusDrive

Nikola is following its European manufacturing partner, Iveco, in testing PlusDrive. Nikola’s Class 8 Tre vehicle is based on the Iveco S-Way. Plus and Iveco announced earlier in February that Iveco would begin public road testing of PlusDrive on diesel versions of the S-Way in Germany.

“We will work together with Iveco on implementation of this technology as we have in multiple areas including the basic ADAS,” a Nikola spokesperson told FreightWaves.

The first factory-installed Nikola Tre BEVs and hydrogen electric vehicles incorporating PlusDrive will be available by the end of 2024. Nikola said the system will be standard. Pricing will be announced later. Nikola already offers electric steering paired with the ZF electronic braking system, two technology building blocks to autonomous operation. 

“This base technology in all our vehicles, combined with Nikola’s own internally developed vehicle controls, over-the-air updates and vehicle security can enable the integration of these advanced sensors and the realization of the PlusDrive safety system from Plus,” said Michael Lohscheller, Nikola president and CEO.

Several fleets, including PGT Trucking and Christenson Transportation, will pilot the initial Nikola PlusDrive-enabled trucks late thIs year. Nikola is establishing an Enhanced Driver Assistance Customer Council to collaborate with fleets and Plus on PlusDrive refinements.

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.