Video Shows the Autonomous Car A.I. That's Taking This Guy Coast-to-Coast

Pronto.AI, a startup founded by controversial engineer Anthony Levandowski, announced on Tuesday that it has completed a coast-to-coast autonomous drive across the United States with zero takeovers from a human driver.

Levandowski told The Guardian that he completed a 3,099-mile trip from San Francisco to New York, in a Toyota Prius modified with six cameras, computers and some simple maps, in four days starting on October 29.

Unlike Delphi’s “99 percent” autonomous trip back in April 2015, Levandowski claims the trip involved zero disengagements. If accurate, it would also mean the engineer has beaten Elon Musk’s goal to complete a coast-to-coast autonomous drive in a Tesla. The trip is believed to be the longest distance ever recorded for an autonomous vehicle without a human taking over, and it would beat Inverse’s prediction that an autonomous car would travel across the United States in 2019.

The trip took a lot of practice. Levandowski claims the team first tried back in September, but high winds near Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats caused the team to step in. A second attempt two weeks later stopped when a Nevada officer pulled the car over, after it drew suspicion for driving below the speed limit in an area notorious for speeders. In the third attempt, the team made it all the way across, only stopping for sleep and fuel.

The car in action.
The car in action.

While it seems an impressive feat, Levandowski is something of a controversial figure in tech. A former engineer for Google’s self-driving car firm Waymo, Levandowski went on to co-found autonomous truck firm Otto, which Uber acquired in summer 2016. Waymo sued Uber over accusations it stole some of its lidar technology, with the latter ultimately settling out of court and firing Levandowski. California and Nevada regulators have also accused the engineer of illegal testing.

Levandowski has also been questioned for some of his more bizarre ventures. He founded a startup called Way of the Future in September 2015 dedicated to “the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society.” Musk, an advocate against such robo-God enslavement, called him out as someone “on the list of people who should absolutely not be allowed to develop digital superintelligence.”

“Over the past 18 months, as I’ve been painted into a villainous caricature, I’ve had lots of time for introspection,” Levandowski wrote in a Medium post.

Pronto.AI is the result. The group plans to release a driver assist system called Co-Pilot in the second half of 2019, as a $5,000 aftermarket installation for trucks. A seventh camera will watch drivers to ensure that they stay alert. The system does not drive itself, offering similar benefits to the semi-autonomous Tesla Autopilot feature, but Levandowski sees this as a key stepping stone to future autonomy by perfecting the more limited technology today.

“We are not building technology that tells vehicles how to drive,” Lwvandowski wrote. “Instead, our team of engineers is building tech that can learn how to drive the way people do.”

Tesla did not respond to Inverse’s request for comment prior to publication.

Related video: Tesla Autopilot Full Self-driving Hardware in Action

Media via Pronto.AI