Waymo and Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, are teaming up on the development of Level 4 autonomous trucks. The first truck resulting from this partnership will be available in the U.S. in the “coming years.” The companies also said they would investigate expanding their efforts to other brands and markets.
Prior to this, both Daimler and Waymo were independently working on autonomous trucks. But now Daimler will integrate Waymo’s autonomous driving technology into a “unique version” of its Freightliner Cascadia semi-trailer trucks. Waymo has been testing its autonomous trucks in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Those trucks were purchased from Peterbilt trucks and retrofitted with Waymo’s technology.
“We have the highest regard for Daimler’s engineering skills and broad global truck product portfolio,” said John Krafcik, CEO, Waymo, “and so we look forward to scaling the Waymo Driver, together with our new partner, to improve road safety and logistics efficiency on the world’s roadways.”
Daimler becomes at least the fifth automaker to integrate Waymo’s technology, joining Nissan-Renault, Fiat Chrysler, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volvo. Interestingly, Daimler already owns a self-driving subsidiary. It acquired a majority stake in Torc Robotics in March 2019. Torc has also been working on Daimler’s Cascadia’s line of trucks. It’s not exactly clear how or if adding Waymo to the mix will affect Torc’s involvement, but Daimler now has “two strong partners” in the field.
“In recent years, we have achieved significant progress on our global roadmap to bringing series-produced highly automated trucks to the road,” said Martin Daum, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler Truck AG and Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG. “With our strategic partnership with Waymo as the leader in autonomous driving, we are taking another important step towards that goal. This partnership complements Daimler Trucks’ dual strategy approach, of working with two strong partners to deliver autonomous L4 solutions that are seamlessly integrated with our best-in-class trucks, to our customers.”
Torc responded to the news with the following statement to Engadget:
“Torc is confident that there will be multiple providers of self-driving trucking solutions to the $800 billion trucking market. Daimler Trucks’ recent dual-strategy approach reflects this view by providing its chassis to third parties in addition to a fully integrated solution through Torc Robotics. This strategy of offering customers a choice is similar to how Daimler Trucks offers customers a choice of a drivetrain with fully integrated engine, as well as a third-party engine.
“Torc’s recent announcements to hire an additional 350 employees, establish a test center in New Mexico, and introduce a second-generation test truck, reflect its commitment to safely bringing self-driving trucks to market. As a 15-year industry veteran, Torc will continue tapping its experience in heavy-duty applications to developing the best L4 truck for long-haul trucking.”
Daimler and Torc released the following video of their self-driving trucks tests on a closed-course on Virginia’s Smart Road and along highways in the Blacksburg, Virginia area. The video includes driving in varying weather conditions, up steep grades, and along construction zones.
Of course, there are other companies developing autonomous trucks, including Ike, Embark, Plus.ai and TuSimple. Starsky Robotics recently went out of business after failing to raise another round of funding.
Waymo recently raised $3 billion from outside investors, the first time it raised capital. The funding will be invested into its workforce and building out its robotaxi and trucking operations.
Earlier in October, Waymo relaunched and expanded its fully driverless robotaxi service around Phoenix. Current members of the Waymo One ride-hailing service now have access to driverless robotaxis and soon anyone who downloads the Waymo app will too. Waymo’s autonomous vehicles operate in a 100-square-mile area of Phoenix, but the fully driverless rides will take place in a 50-square-mile area in the suburbs of Chandler, Tempe, and Mesa. Waymo has been testing its autonomous vehicles in Phoenix since early 2017.