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Waymo is best known for its Level 4 robotaxis, but the Alphabet self-driving business unit is taking an important step forward with its autonomous trucking efforts. UPS is now testing Waymo Via’s Class 8 trucks in Texas.
The trucks, which are outfitted with Waymo’s fifth-generation autonomous driving system, are shipping freight between UPS facilities in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. Multiple autonomous trucks are involved in the pilot. Each truck has two autonomous specialists on board — one who has a commercial driver’s license and one software technician who will monitor the truck while it’s in autonomous mode. The trucks will operate autonomously while on highways, and then Waymo will transfer control to a human driver once the trucks get off the highways.
The six-week pilot kicked off last week and will continue until the end of 2021. Details about the route haven’t been released. But, according to Google Maps, it’s about a three-and-a-half hour drive (239 miles) on I-45 between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. Kodiak Robotics earlier this year released footage of its autonomous trucks autonomously driving on I-45.
“We hope to gather early learnings about how autonomous driving technology can help enhance safety and efficiency, evaluate the performance of the autonomous system and successful delivery of freight, and understand how to refine our autonomous operations in this use case for eventual scaling,” Waymo said.
“These Class 8 trial runs will build on all of the learnings and success we’ve had testing with UPS over the years, as well as our previous Class 8 trial runs with other carriers across unique verticals, including J.B. Hunt. While it’s still early days, this partnership with UPS is a great example of how Waymo Via is creating an autonomous delivery solution spanning trucking and local delivery that can offer customers unique safety benefits, network flexibility, and scalability.”
Waymo is also working with JB Hunt Transport Services to haul freight along interstates in Texas. It’s also working with Daimler on Level 4 autonomous trucks.
Waymo is better known for its work on Level 4 robotaxis. Waymo has been operating a 4 public robotaxi service in parts of Arizona since October 2020. And it started testing in San Francisco in August 2021 with human safety drivers behind the wheel. Waymo, and competitor Cruise, recently received a permit to offer robotaxi rides to public passengers in California. Waymo’s permit allows it to operate its autonomous vehicles in certain parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties. However, the vehicles must have human safety drivers behind the wheel.
Hey @Waymo! pic.twitter.com/p6F3Cnst3d
— Andrew Martonik (@andrewmartonik) November 15, 2021
Earlier in November 2021, Waymo began mapping New York City using manned vehicles. Five of the company’s Chrysler Pacifica minivans are driving in Manhattan to hopefully improve the autonomous driving system via New York’s challenging driving environment and weather.
Fellow autonomous trucking company Plus recently had its SPAC merger with blank check firm Hennessy Capital called off. The company’s said regulatory issues in China, which has begun cracking down on technology companies, was the reason for ending the deal. Two other autonomous trucking companies, Embark Trucks and TuSimple, recently became publicly-traded companies.
Thank you for the detailed report Steve. I was next to one of these trucks and my curiosity inspired me to investigate.
Your article answered some questions for me and I appreciate you taking the time to post it.