The Rebound Podcast: The future of autonomous vehicles in the supply chain

By Bob Trebilcock, Supply Chain Management Review

On this episode of The Rebound, Charlie Jatt, head of commercialization for trucking at Waymo Via, brings us up to speed on developments in technology for autonomous trucking, and when we might see autonomous trucks on the road. ASCM CEO Abe Eshkenazi and SCMR Editorial Director Bob Trebilcock are hosts.

The driver shortage is at crisis levels and has been for a long time. That comes as no surprise to shippers or logistics providers. Given that the average age of U.S. truck drivers today is nearly 50, it’s only likely to get worse.

It’s no surprise then that the trucking industry and shippers alike are interested in the potential of autonomous trucks. So, where are we, and what does the future of autonomous trucking look like? And, where we’re closer to rolling the technology out than we might think, at least in some applications?

On this episode of The Rebound, Charlie Jatt, the head of commercialization for trucking at Waymo Via, discusses the evolution of driverless technology, partnerships Waymo Via is forming with industry leaders to create an autonomous trucking ecosystem and what comes next. You don’t want to miss this episode.

Be sure to listen wherever you get your podcasts.

Autonomous vehicles and the truck driver workforce — Taking the Hire Road

By Jack Glenn, FreightWaves

Don Lefeve, head of corporate affairs at Robotic Research LLC, joins this week’s episode of Taking the Hire Road to share his thoughts on the very near future of autonomy in trucking with Jeremy Reymer, founder and CEO of DriverReach.

“Autonomous technology offers a real benefit to safety,” Lefeve said. “It not only has the potential to greatly reduce the number of crashes each year, but can one day potentially eliminate them altogether.”

Autonomy isn’t as futuristic as it might sound. In fact, Lefeve has been delivering autonomous systems for the Department of Defense for the past 20 years. In addition, its use has already been implemented in certain trucking capacities.

The picture that pops into everyone’s head is of a driverless truck barrelling down the freeway. While that may come to fruition one day, it’s currently used to aid drivers and increase efficiencies surrounding yard movements and other such repeatable tasks. Besides its safety benefits, Lefeve stated that autonomy, even with a driver, makes financial sense.

Lefeve explains that there are a handful of different operational design domains or environments for autonomous driving, the most widely known being highway driving. But the reality today is that an autonomous highway vehicle cannot perform outside of that particular environment, meaning that it isn’t capable of doing final-mile tasks, for instance.

“Some of the major trucking autonomy companies are really focused just on the highway. We at Robotic Research, however, have made the strategic decision to focus on a number of use cases to really build that 360-degree autonomy to really give users that flexibility to use across environments, whether it be on-road or off-road, a yard or in a city, or a first- and last-mile setting.”

Lefeve predicts autonomous vehicle technology will take shape in the trucking industry over the next few years and may possibly see mass adoption by 2026 or 2027. However, he doesn’t view autonomous vehicles as a job threat as many see it, but rather expects it to simply create new jobs for truckers. Lefeve said a likely scenario could be that a “driver” takes the passenger seat in sort of a safety role as the autonomous truck does the driving.

“You may start your career as a driver, but be prepared to potentially become a remote driver in the future,” Lefeve added.

UPS will make deliveries using Waymo’s autonomous Class 8 trucks

By Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge

Waymo and UPS are expanding their nearly two-year-old partnership to include deliveries made using the Alphabet company’s fleet of autonomous Class 8 trucks. The companies had previously only conducted local deliveries using Waymo’s self-driving minivans; now, they will work together on longer-distance freight hauling.

The deliveries will take place in Texas, where Waymo is building a nine-acre hub for its autonomous semi-trailer trucks. Starting now and lasting until the end of the year, Waymo and UPS will collaborate on freight hauling between facilities in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. The companies will gather data during the trial process, with an eye on safety and efficiency in particular.

Currently, Waymo is testing the fifth generation of its “Driver,” which is the term used to describe its combination of hardware, sensors, and AI software, on its fleet of Class 8 trucks. The company is also working with JB Hunt Transport Services to haul freight along several interstates in Texas and is continuing its work with Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, on a fully autonomous, Level 4 system for trucks.

While much of the public’s focus has been on Waymo’s autonomous minivans that operate in Arizona as part of a ride-hailing service, less attention has been paid to the company’s stated plans to eventually launch a commercial freight hauling business. Waymo has a fleet of Peterbilt trucks that have been retrofitted with autonomous driving sensors and software, and it is currently testing them in Arizona, California, and Texas.

The trucks operate autonomously during tests and commercial deliveries but include two Waymo employees — a commercially licensed driver and a software engineer — who sit in the cab and monitor the driving. Waymo has been working on autonomous trucks since 2017 and plans to eventually launch a full-scale freight hauling and delivery service called Waymo Via.

For UPS, it’s an opportunity to realize a vision for the future where some of its delivery vehicles are electric, autonomous, or aerial drones. In addition to Waymo, UPS has conducted tests using self-driving trucks designed by a startup called TuSimple. And it said it would purchase 10,000 electric delivery vans from a UK startup called Arrival.