Self-Driving Vehicles Are Hitting the Roads All Over Texas, and More Could Show Up in Dallas

By Jacob Vaugn, Dallas Observer

Autonomous vehicles have been driving all over North Texas, and more could be on the way.

In 2017, Texas passed Senate Bill 2205, which opened the state’s roads to car manufactures and tech companies for testing and operating autonomous vehicles, and they’ve taken advantage of the opportunity.

Most recently, an autonomous big rig company owned by Google partnered with North America’s largest logistics firm to haul freight between Dallas and Houston on Interstate 45. C.H. Robinson, the firm, delivers some 20 million shipments every year. Now, they’ll be using Google company Waymo and its self-driving trucks to make some of those deliveries.

“Together, we are going to harness this emerging freight technology and its potential on behalf of customers and carriers,” Chris O’Brien, chief operating officer at C.H. Robinson, said in a press release.

Companies like J.B. Hunt and UPS have been using Waymo autonomous vehicles for some of their Texas shipments since 2021.

The Dallas City Council is also trying to entice Ford Motor Co. and Argo AI with $3 million in tax incentives to build its new self-driving vehicle factory in the Big D. Dallas is a finalist for the facility, along with two cities in California.

“This is an exciting project,” City Council member Jesse Moreno said last month after voting for the incentives. “This is an opportunity to bring 250 jobs to the Love Field-West community.”

Ford invested in the autonomous driving company Argo AI the same year Texas began allowing the tech on its roads. City Council approved the incentive package on Jan. 12.

These partnerships create hundreds of jobs in the DFW area, and some think this tech is the answer to several problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic — problems like drunk driving and a trucker shortage.

“This is an opportunity to bring 250 jobs to the Love Field-West community.” – Jesse Moreno, Dallas City Council

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For example, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), an advocacy group, has partnered with Waymo in an effort to reduce drunk driving injuries and fatalities. The U.S. Department of Transportation found that traffic fatalities skyrocketed during the first half of last year.

“When autonomous vehicles began to gain traction, we began working more closely with Waymo and with other companies to promote the safety benefits of autonomous-vehicle technology,” J.T. Griffin, MADD’s chief government affairs officer, told Business Insider.

The American Trucking Association says the trucker shortage has reached historic proportions, lacking more than 80,000 drivers. The shortage is expected to get worse.

Last year, a California-based company called Aurora, which has ties with Amazon, Uber and Toyota, said it was planning to test a fleet of driverless ride-sharing vehicles on Dallas roads.

But there are still plenty of questions about the safety of self-driving technology.

Some driverless vehicles, especially during pilot phases, aren’t actually driverless. They sometimes have someone in the driver seat ready to take over in case of an emergency. The new Waymo-C.H. Robinson fleet will still have someone in the driver seat.

Since 2018, vehicles in Waymo’s autonomous taxi service, Waymo One, have been involved in 18 accidents and 29 “disengagements,” according to the company. Disengagements are instances when a human had to take over the vehicle to prevent an accident. Those 18 collisions involved pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, and other objects.

Waymo has released a self-driving report every year since October 2017.

The Brookings Institution, a think tank called HNTB and the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, all conducted independent studies in 2018 and found that a majority of people think driverless cars are unsafe.

The following year, 11 companies – including Audi, BMW and Volkswagen – published a white paper titled “Safety First For Automated Driving.” It’s a 146-page document that lays the framework for safe self-driving technology. The collective also includes tech companies like Intel and Aptiv.

Waymo hasn’t joined the companies in this particular effort. However, they are a member of Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, which works with lawmakers and the public to realize the safety and societal benefits of self-driving vehicles.

While Ford hasn’t decided where to set up shop yet, the new Waymo-C.H. Robinson big rigs are expected to hit Interstate 45 in the next few months.

New Waymo Via partnership gives it access to 200,000 shippers and carriers

By Rebecca Bellan, TechCrunch

Waymo Via, Waymo’s autonomous trucking and cargo unit, has found another long-term strategic partner to see it through to commercialization.

The company is gearing up to launch a pilot with C.H. Robinson, a freight logistics technology supplier that connects shippers to carriers, within the coming months that will see Waymo’s test fleet delivering freight in Texas for one of C.H. Robinson’s customers.

The pilot is part of a larger partnership between the two companies that aims to combine Waymo’s AV technology, which is available to any carrier, with C.H. Robinson’s logistics data on over 3 million trucking lanes and access to a network of nearly 200,000 shippers and carriers, many of which are medium and small carriers that Waymo is interested in reaching.

“This partnership has the potential to influence how and where AV develops across North America and how it supports carriers,” a Waymo spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Waymo Via will deliver an autonomous solution that optimizes safety and efficiency. C.H. Robinson brings the logistics expertise and data at scale to help evolve the technology for the logistics industry’s specific needs and apply it where it has the most benefit for shippers and carriers.”

Last month, Waymo Via said shipping carrier J.B. Hunt would be its first launch customer for fully autonomous freight routes, which Waymo expects to reach within the next few years. At the end of last year, the company finished an extended pilot delivering freight for UPS via its test fleet of Peterbilt Class 8 trucks.

This most recent partnership, announced on Wednesday, will involve multiple pilots with C.H. Robinson’s customers over the next few years. Neither Waymo nor C.H. Robinson would share specifics about the initial pilot, such as how many vehicles would be involved, when the pilot would start or how long it would be. They did say, however, that the pilots would take place along the Dallas to Houston transportation lane.

The partnership with C.H. Robinson gives Waymo a chance to flex its Driver-as-a-Service business model, which involves partnering with OEMs like Daimler Truck to build trucks that will be designed for and equipped with Waymo Driver, the company’s AV system. The goal is to have carriers and fleets then purchase these trucks, which would be outfitted with all the hardware needed to make a self-driving truck do its thing, and Waymo Via will provide ongoing support and services for hardware and software.

In short — Waymo isn’t trying to build, own and operate fleets. It wants to “provide a truck with the Waymo Driver as an option to the industry,” said Charlie Jatt, head of commercialization for trucking at Waymo Via, during a press briefing on Tuesday. “And then it’s really made available to carriers and logistics experts like C.H. Robinson to leverage that technology and improve their businesses and operate those assets in order to serve shipping customers.”

While Waymo has experience bringing fully autonomous vehicles to a commercially viable scale via its robotaxi service in Phoenix, it still has a lot to learn about where it can best apply its Waymo Driver to freight. That’s what makes the partnership with C.H. Robinson useful — the companies hypothesize that long-haul trucking is the area most in need of autonomous drivers, particularly because it’s hard to find human drivers to fill that capacity, and C.H. Robinson’s data will help to confirm that.

On C.H. Robinson’s side, the partnership is about more than just implementing AV tech for tech’s sake. The company’s main concern is helping carriers find efficiencies in their business, which will translate to more efficiencies for C.H. Robinson’s shipping customers that have been struggling from the effects of the driver shortage.

“Ultimately, autonomous technology and the mode itself needs to pay for itself with efficiency and greater utilization and rates in general,” said Chris O’Brien, C.H. Robinson’s chief commercial officer, at the briefing. “A typical conversation [with our carriers] at the end of the year would be, ‘Okay, C.H. Robinson, what do you have from a capacity standpoint for next year?’ And based on those commitments they go make hiring decisions and lease or purchase decisions for tractors and trailers. So we see this as just one more way that we can bring an option to them that is different and has all the advantages of efficiency and labor savings that they can bring to the table, as well as freeing up their drivers to handle the short-haul freight.”