How Torc Robotics engineered a leading position in self-driving vehicle tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. By Ron Starner, Site Selection magazine.
“We wanted this to have the greatest impact on society.”
With those words, Michael Fleming revealed the ultimate goal of his self-driving vehicle technology company: Deliver greater safety, efficiency, and economy to the world of transportation by removing human error from behind the wheel.
For 30 minutes on a rainy Tuesday morning in September in Blacksburg, Virginia, Fleming didn’t just talk about what he envisioned for his Torc Robotics firm; he demonstrated it.
Starting at the Virginia Tech Montgomery Executive Airport, Fleming and I fastened our seatbelts in the back seat of Torc’s autonomous Lexus SUV known as “Asimov” and then ventured out for a scenic tour of southwestern Virginia.
It would be my first ride ever in a self-driving car. It likely won’t be my last.
For the next half hour, the Torc-driven SUV navigated sharp curves, merged onto a busy highway, passed slow-moving trucks, avoided over-eager gawkers, and obeyed every law of the road, all in a steady rain in Appalachian hills, and did it flawlessly.
“This will significantly disrupt the mobility space,” says Fleming, CEO and co-founder of Torc. “The biggest problem with automobiles is that they are subject to human driver error. The question we set out to answer was ‘How do we solve this from a safety, efficiency and economy standpoint?’ “
The answer came in the form of Asimov, a fully autonomous SUV outfitted with the best engineering technology to come out of Virginia Tech and the minds who gravitate there. The vehicle is named for prolific science and speculative fiction author Isaac Asimov, whose “I, Robot” trilogy coined the term “robotics” and included the Three Laws of Robotics. The first? “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Among the car’s many breakthroughs in the past year was the first-ever, 4,300-mile, autonomous cross-country trip, as well as navigating the New River Valley’s largest snowfall.
TORC Robotics, Inc.