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Self-driving 18-wheelers being tested on North Texas roads

By J.D. Miles

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    ELLIS COUNTY, Texas (KTVT) — If the thought of an 18-wheeler heading down the road with no one behind the wheel scares you, then you’re probably not going to like to hear this.

Self-driving big rigs are already on the freeways of North Texas and very soon they won’t have occupants at all.

The small Ellis County town of Palmer seems an unlikely place for the home of what some call robo trucks.

Ossa Fisher, president of Aurora Innovation, has spent the last three years in Texas testing self-driving, autonomous big rigs that she believes is the future of trucking.

“I believe the world was born ready for a truck like this,” Fisher said, with 25 cameras and sensors that are calibrated every time they roll out along with four powerful antennas.

CBS News Texas was allowed to ride on one of Aurora’s test drives with two operators whose only job is to make sure the self-driving truck does its job.

The licensed driver who is ready to grab the wheel says he has never had to during his test drives.

“It would brake or slow down just like I would normally do,” said Lacarro Foster, truck operator.

Foster and other operator are pretty much just along for the ride.

Aurora said big rigs with completely empty cabs will be on Texas roads within only a few months.

Aurora has had one minor crash involving an autonomous truck in Ellis County, but authorities determined it was caused by an out-of-control driver in another vehicle.

Aurora isn’t quite as confident yet about self-driving in bad weather.

“We’re very confident in our ability to navigate in clear weather, misty weather, foggy weather, and that’s how we are going to start,” Foster said.

Computer driven trucks can haul for 22 hours straight, double the time humans are legally allowed to.

The reduced costs of shipping from that, and no paid driver could lower prices consumers pay for things transported on the ground.

But Foster, who has a commercial driver’s license herself, knows building public trust in the technology will be essential to making this idea successful.

“To be honest, I trust the Aurora driver more than I trust myself behind the wheel of an 18 wheeler,” she said.

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