The cofounder of a Y Combinator-backed trucking startup says there's one thing about self-driving trucking that everyone gets wrong



  • Starsky Robotics is operating unmanned semi-trucks on public highways in Florida as of June 16.
  • It’s a first for the trucking industry, which usually has at least two folks inside an autonomous truck.
  • Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, CEO and cofounder of Starksy Robotics, said the company’s tack on government regulations helped Starsky get its unmanned trucks on the highways quickly.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Plenty of trucking companies have driverless trucks on the highways, and some are even carrying loads for major companies.

But only Starsky is operating driverless trucks without a single person in the car on public highways. As of June 16, the company, which has raised $20.3 million in funding from investors like Y Combinator and Shasta Ventures, is running driverless trucks in Florida.

“We drove the same route a whole bunch of times in a row, without the safety driver ever needing to do anything, and that’s why we’re able to be statistically confident that we wouldn’t need the safety driver to do anything,”Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, CEO and cofounder of Starksy Robotics, told Business Insider.

Read more: A company you’ve probably never heard of is quietly building a fleet of self-driving semis that could revolutionize the trucking industry. And the founder says it has one big advantage over Tesla, Uber, and Waymo

In a Medium post announcing the tests on June 25, Seltz-Axmacher highlighted Starsky’s approach to autonomous trucks that highlighted drivers operating the trucks from an office.

He also emphasized that the company sees government regulators as partners, not impediments, to their goal of getting more unmanned trucks on the road.

“Anyone who says autonomy is not here because of regulations is either stupid or lying,” Seltz-Axmacher told Business Insider.

It’s a different tack on regulations than most experts on the field have. Regulations on self-driving cars have been recently described as “a complicated challenge” and a source of “backlash” to new technologies. Others say the legal component is part of the reason why self-driving trucks are still a decade or more away.

Stefan Seltz-Axmacher Starsky Robotics

But Seltz-Axmacher said recognizing that the laws are indeed flexible on autonomous testing is crucial. It’s legal to test self-driving cars on public roads in 36 states. In seven of those states, companies are not required to put a safety driver in the vehicle.

“The key thing is that technology’s really hard, proving safety is really hard, those are things that are really no joke at all,” Seltz-Axmacher said. “But regulators have busted their butts trying to be supportive of this industry. Whether it’s economic efficiency or increased road safety, the regulators know just how much there is to be gained by there being autonomous vehicles.”

Other self-driving truck companies have run into issues with legalities. California’s Department of Motor Vehicles began investigating Otto, Uber’s now-defunct self-driving truck unit, in 2017 on suspicions it was testing self-driving trucks on public highways without permission.

To avoid lawsuits and investigations, autonomous vehicle companies have become focused on hiring more lobbyists and advisers to sway policy.

“This is not a regulatory problem, this is a productization problem,” Seltz-Axmacher said. “At Starsky we are the product-focused autonomous company, which is why we’ve been able to solve this where other people haven’t.”

SEE ALSO: A little-known trucking startup just beat Tesla and Waymo to run driverless semi-trucks on the open road

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: This company turned the Model S into the first official Tesla race car