Daimler Trucks, a division of Germany’s Daimler Group, has taken majority ownership of U.S. autonomous robotics firm Torc Robotics. This is a new bid by the German firm to boost its autonomous truck program in a challenge to the Tesla Semi all-electric truck, which has a semi-autonomous driving capability.

Daimler, however, didn’t disclose the acquisition price or the extent of its ownership in Torc. The firm is the world’s sales leader in Class 8 tractor-trailer semis. The typical 5-axle tractor-trailer combination, also called a semi or 18-wheeler, is a Class 8 truck.

Daimler acquired Torc through its U.S. subsidiary, Daimler Trucks North America. Daimler and Torc have partnered to commercialize highly automated trucks (SAE Level 4) on U.S. roads.

Michael Fleming, CEO of Torc Robotics; Martin Daum, Member of the Board of Management Daimler AG, responsible for Trucks and Buses; and Roger Nielsen, CEO of Daimler Trucks North America LLC, announced the Daimler buy-in.

"With the ever rising demand for road transportation, not the least through e-commerce, there is a strong business case for self-driving trucks in the U.S. market and I believe the fastest path to commercialization for self-driving trucks is in partnership with Daimler Trucks, the OEM market leader," said Fleming.

Based in Blacksburg, Virginia and founded in 2005, Torc develops customized unmanned and autonomous technology retrofitted into existing trucks or machinery. Its customized products, software and automation kits have been used on vehicles of the U.S. military, by motor vehicle companies, and by mining firms, among others over the past decade. About half of Torc’s revenue comes from defense work with the rest from commercial customers.

Both Daimler and Torc believe self-driving trucks have the potential to meet the world's ever-growing freight transportation needs through increased safety and efficiency

Today, Torc is considered by many as a leader in the rapidly growing field of autonomous vehicles. The company was co-founded by Fleming.

daimler
A picture taken on April 5, 2018 shows a view of the main entrance of the German luxury car manufacturer Daimler's annual general meeting in Berlin. Daimler has acquired Torc Robotics. JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

“Torc takes a practical approach to commercialization and offers advanced, road-ready technology, plus years of experience in heavy vehicles,” said Nielsen.

Nielsen noted that Torc is not a start-up, but one of the world's most experienced companies for vehicle automation. He said Torc takes a practical approach to commercialization and offers advanced, road-ready technology, plus years of experience in heavy vehicles. He praised Torc’s Level 4 system that’s been shown to operate well for both urban and highway driving in rain, snow, fog, and sunshine.

Fleming said the U.S. will be a primary target for putting self-driving semis on highways. The trucking industry has become a focus of autonomous vehicle development due to several factors including the shortage of truck drivers.

The Tesla Semi is an all-electric battery-powered Class 8 semi under development by Tesla Inc. A prototype of this truck was unveiled in November 2017. Tesla Semi is scheduled to start production by 2020.