Ex-Waymo engineer drove from San Francisco to New York City in a self-driving car

Anthony Levandowski claims he has completed a a major milestone for self-driving car technology: a coast-to-coast trip using his latest technology.

If Levandowski sounds familiar, it’s because he was the center of attention in the Waymo-Uber legal battle. Waymo accused the former employee of stealing trade secrets and forming Otto, a self-driving truck company. Uber then quickly acquired the startup company and allegedly took Waymo’s secrets with it. Waymo and Uber settled the lawsuit before Levandowski was called to testify in court. 

Today, Levandowski working on a new startup company called Pronto.AI. The company is responsible for a technology called Co-Pilot that enabled a Toyota Prius to travel 3,099 miles from the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco to the George Washing Bridge in New York City. According to The Guardian, which detailed the controversial engineer’s trip in a Tuesday report, the car handled the trip on its own without any intervention from Levandowski, who sat in the driver’s seat to ensure the car behaved.

Levandowski attempted the cross-country road trip two times before the third attempt yielded the results he wanted. He said the car disengaged its self-driving systems due to high wind on the first attempt, and then was pulled over in Nevada for traveling under the speed limit where other drivers were moving at higher rates of speed. His company tweaked the software and let the system operate at higher speeds after the encounter with the law.

The engineer said software is the key behind successful self-driving car systems. Pronto.AI does not use lidar as so many other companies do. Instead, its system only features six video cameras that point to the front, sides, and rear of the car. One camera faces the driver (passenger?) to ensure he or she pays attention to the road. Images make their way to a computer stored in the trunk that runs two neural networks to process the vast amounts of data.

From there, one network recognizes lane markings, signs, and other obstacles. The second actually takes the information and controls the car to operate the throttle, brakes, and steering. However, the system only works on the highway and is not programmed to operate on city streets. The company calls Co-Pilot Level 2 self-driving technology.

Pronto.AI doesn’t want to target consumer vehicles or even carry out its own self-driving car tests. Instead, Co-Pilot is aimed at commercial truck companies as a safety net for Class 8 semi-truck drivers. Levandowski said the system forms the basis for advanced driver safety systems.

If all goes according to plan, the system will be for sale in early 2019 for $ 5,000 as an aftermarket installation. You can see a timelapse video of the technology in action above, and hear a reading of the poem “Roll the Dice,” by underground writer Charles Bukowski.

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