2 Firms Widen Autonomous Trucking

By TankTransport

Aurora Innovation and FedEx will add an additional commercial lane to their autonomous commercial line-haul trucking pilot, which transports FedEx shipments in Texas.

In March 2022, Aurora’s autonomous trucks — based on the new Peterbilt 579 — began to transport FedEx shipments between Aurora’s new terminals in Fort Worth and El Paso.

Aurora is making the 600-mile trip on a weekly basis with safety drivers on board and expects to increase the frequency of trips in the coming months.

Aurora continues to move shipments for FedEx between Aurora’s South Dallas terminal and its new Houston terminal on a daily basis.

Pilot Progress

  • Since the commercial pilot began in September 2021, Aurora’s deliveries of FedEx shipments between Dallas and Houston have been on time no matter weather conditions or hour of the day.
  • With each trip, the Aurora Driver (Aurora’s self-driving technology product) is providing thousands of FedEx customers with packages that were autonomously transported.
  • Aurora completed daily hauls during the 2021 peak holiday season, the busiest time of year for FedEx.
  • To date, the companies have completed 60,000 miles with zero safety incidents, according to the companies.

Aurora’s performance throughout this pilot demonstrates the value proposition autonomous trucking offers for transportation and logistics providers as Aurora works toward the commercial launch of its autonomous trucks, Aurora officials said in a press release.

“Aurora has been a like-minded collaborator, helping us learn from and grow our autonomous trucking solutions,” said Rebecca Yeung, corporate vice president of operations science and advanced technology for FedEx Corp. “We look forward to our continued work together as we test further integration of autonomous technology into our operations to build a collaborative, robust network of solutions to respond to growing customer demand.”

The Self-Driving Big Rigs That You’ll See on the Highway Soon

By Brian Cooley, CNET

If you’re blasé about autonomous cars, don’t throw self-driving trucks out with them. Both aim to automate activity on the same roads but the usefulness and likelihood of success for trucks outshines that of personal cars. The $720 billion US trucking business that employs 900,000 drivers (and would love to employ more) is at the heart of virtually everything in our economy; as Jimmy Hoffa said, “If you’ve got it, a truck brought it.” Here are the main companies who may rewrite that bromide to “a truck brought it — by itself.”


It may seem odd to start this list with a defunct company that was absorbed into Uber and then dissipated when Uber dumped its self-driving dreams, but Otto kicked open the door for self-driving rigs in 2017 with a headline-grabbing beer run that successfully covered 132 miles across Colorado. Prior to that few people were thinking about self-driving big rigs, still trying to wrap their heads around autonomous passenger cars. Since then I would argue that commercial trucks of all kinds have leapt ahead in the race to achieve and justify vehicle autonomy, and Otto helped to set that table.


Aurora is partly built on its 2020 acquisition of Uber’s self-driving tech and now calls its fleet offering Aurora Horizon. Like many on this list It will be offered as a subscription service to fleet operators via trucks from established brands. Aurora Horizon is starting in Texas and then expanding around the Sunbelt before reaching the rest of the country as commercialization begins in late 2023.


Einride is developing an autonomous truck called the Pod but is perhaps just as notable for its smart electric trailer, which can be hitched to an electric truck to provide up to 400 miles of added range along with intelligence about its loads and usage. Another interesting wrinkle is Einride’s vision of using remote driver assistance, not unlike what we see applied to military drones.

Embark Trucks

Embark is focused on the software that makes trucks drive themselves as well as on establishing a network of rock-solid routes on which they’ll do so. Partnerships with Volvo, International, Freightliner and Peterbilt suggest a wide net being cast to deliver Embark’s promised 10% fuel savings, 40% time savings and 300% revenue growth per truck.

Kodiak Robotics

Kodiak Robotics boasts of how well its autonomy can stop a truck, not just make it go. Kodiak argues that all vehicle autonomy is going to encounter equipment failures or unworkable road scenarios that need to be handled with a safe, solid fallback plan. That addresses the No. 1 fear I hear from average drivers about having autonomous rigs on the road around them.


Locomation stands out with an human-centric vision: Autonomous Relay Convoys that pair up two trucks and two drivers in a lead-follow arrangement. The front truck is manned by a driver actively overseeing autonomy while the rear truck operates as a sort of following drone with a relief driver at rest. This doubles up the smarts of the lead truck at the front while rotating drivers in a way that can raise truck utilization to 20 to 22 hours per day. The dual driver technique is reminiscent of how airlines execute the longest transcontinental flights efficiently.


Plus self-driving tech is designed to be retrofitted to existing trucks or installed as an upfit option on a new truck. This reflects an awareness that commercial trucks are seldom swapped out on a whim like personal cars. Plus promises that its PlusDrive tech can save operators 10% of their current fuel usage, a major enticement on vehicles that consume a lot of it.

Torc Robotics

Torc was born from autonomous drive team at Virginia Tech that was successful at the historic 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, which many recall as the big bang for autonomous vehicles. Torc envisions a fully qualified driver always being on hand to take over if need be in true Level 4 style.


TuSimple is among the companies focused on developing a network of routes and depots, or launch pads as it calls them, that are plied by its trucks. Moving freight along these high-value routes to the launch pads where other trucks pick up the trailer for final delivery is reminiscent of a railroad model. High-volume shippers would have the option of running their own fleets of TuSimple enabled trucks to directly serve their locations.

Waymo Via

Waymo Via gets a lot of headlines since it’s a Google driverless tech effort recently paired with Uber in which Waymo will deliver the autonomy while Uber contributes the “Uberization,” meaning optimizing need and capacity similar to how it helped revolutionize the matching of rides and riders. Waymo Via is a formidable duo, at least in reputation.

People often ask which of these companies will send big trucks out on highways without a soul on board, shuddering at the prospect. Most of these efforts are Level 4, meaning a driver is still available, but even the firms imagining Level 5 complete autonomy won’t make that decision on their own: Fleet operators, their insurers and federal regulators will have the final say, especially in a sector of vehicles that is so heavily regulated as big trucks.

As for timelines, a clear bubble of commercialization is growing around the 2023-to-2024 window when most of these companies suggest they will hit their strides with offerings at some scale.

First Look: Waymo’s New Self‑Driving Trucking Hub Opens in Lancaster

By David Seeley, Dallas Innovates

There’s way more autonomous trucking going on in Dallas-Fort Worth than most places in the U.S.—and Waymo is one reason why. Last week the company opened a new nine-acre autonomous trucking hub in Lancaster, just south of Dallas.

It’s a $10 million investment that’s expected to bring hundreds of jobs to the community—and advance the industry’s novel technology.

“This facility has been built from the ground up to support Waymo Via, which is our Class 8 trucking solution,” Rocky Garff, head of trucking operations for Waymo, said at a ribbon-cutting event at the hub last Wednesday. “We’re growing our operations and our investment here in Texas, and across the southwestern U.S. region. We’re super excited for what’s to come.”

“The vision is that we can launch trucks autonomously and then receive them autonomously here,” Garff added as he offered a tour of the facility and its 10 truck maintenance bays, six EV charging stations, and diesel fueling operations.

Waymo currently operates 20 autonomous trucks out of the hub, with plans to grow that “quite a bit” by end of year, Garff said.

Waymo’s been operating in the Dallas area since 2020

Based in Mountain View, California, Waymo is a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc. Waymo Via has been testing and driving autonomous trucks in the Dallas area since 2020. It’s now rolling freight with driverless technology between Dallas and Houston (with a backup safety driver behind the wheel and a software technician in the passenger seat).

Cameras, radar, and lidar systems on the Waymo Via trucks enable them to navigate Texas highways autonomously.

“We run our trucks 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Garff said. “I’m super focused on bringing this technology to market. We believe autonomous technology will bring safety to the roads and provide better efficiency. This facility that we’re at today, it’s nine acres. It’s built from the ground up to help us test for autonomous vehicles. It can accommodate hundreds of tractors and trailers and operators who will be here maintaining and operating the vehicles.”

The company is developing the Waymo Driver, an autonomous driving system that can control vehicles “in a safe and efficient manner.” Waymo Via is its trucking and delivery solution, and Waymo One is a ride-hailing solution currently operating in Arizona and scaling up in San Francisco.

Bringing ‘hundreds of jobs’ to the community

Michelle Peacock, Waymo’s global head of public policy, spoke at the ribbon-cutting about the new hub’s economic impact.

“This facility is going to bring hundreds of jobs in this community,” Peacock said.

Peacock praised the Texas legislature for having “the innovation and the forethought” to pass Senate Bill 2205 back in 2017. The state law implemented minimum safety standards for “autonomous vehicles” and “automated driving systems” in Texas, enabling companies like Waymo, Gatik, TuSimple, and Kodiak Robotics to launch pilot trucking operations in Texas

Around 100 employees are already operating out of the hub now, Garff said. “As the operation moves from testing to actually autonomous movement, the type of jobs would be a little bit different,” he added. “But this facility is designed to handle hundreds of tractors and trailers. So it needs a lot of people—it’s very bustling.”

‘The home to autonomous vehicles in the U.S.’

Duane Dankesreiter, SVP for research and innovation at the Dallas Regional Chamber, says Dallas-Fort Worth holds a strong position in autonomous vehicles in the U.S.—right at the top.

“This operation and Waymo’s investment in the region further cements Dallas-Fort Worth as the home to autonomous vehicles in the U.S.,” Dankesreiter said at the opening. “It’s no coincidence. We’ve heard a little bit about the policy that got set in place in 2017. That legislation set a great foundation and a great regulatory framework for companies to set up operations in Dallas like what we’ve seen today. The autonomous trucking industry needs predictable governance. We want to make it easy for companies to grow and expand.”

Dankesreiter noted that DFW leads the U.S. in job growth, and has “added more jobs than any other U.S. market” over the last three years.

“Trade and transportation is at the top of that stack,” he said. “That’s our growth. That’s the reason this is happening. And a lot of that is happening here in southern Dallas County and in the Inland Port.

“You’re seeing innovative companies like Waymo using the region as a proving ground and innovation corridor to test emerging technologies,” he added. “They’re hiring from our strong diverse talent pool and working closely with our universities and colleges to align curriculums for the workforce of the future. It’s so important to their growth, to our companies, and our region’s growth.”

Planning to expand ‘all through Texas’

Brandon Cain, project manager and Dallas operations lead for Waymo, calls the built-from-the-ground-up Lancaster facility “one of a kind.”

The unique hub goes beyond a typical distribution center with a building that houses offices for management, hospitality amenities for employees, and tech bays to work on the vehicles.

Surrounded by space for hundreds of trucks and trailers, the facility has its own diesel fueling station and EV charging bays, he says.

Cain expects to continue to work with more partners and “expand all through Texas.”

Waymo expanded collaboration with J.B. Hunt in January

In January, Waymo Via and J.B. Hunt Transport Services announced a long-term strategic alliance that will mean many more autonomous trucking pilot runs on I-45 between Fort Worth and Houston—with plans “to complete fully autonomous transport in Texas in the next few years.”

Just last week, Waymo and J.B. Hunt began a multi-week pilot to transport furniture and home goods for the online marketplace Wayfair along the I-45 corridor.

“The more we drive, the better we get,” Waymo’s Cain told Dallas Innovates.

Mayor: ‘Lancaster is right in the middle of that golden box’

“Let’s talk logistics,” Lancaster Mayor Clyde C. Hairston said at the ribbon-cutting event. “To the west, 1-35, To the north, I-20. To the east, I-45, Lancaster is right in the middle of that golden box with golden opportunities.”

“I remember when nothing was out here,” Hairston added. “It was a vision.  Now you see the reality of that vision. I believe that [Lancaster’s partnership with Waymo] is going to get stronger and stronger.”

All those highways make Waymo’s new Lancaster hub central to its plans for Texas expansion, as well as offering a gateway to Phoenix, where Waymo recently expanded its driverless ride-hailing testing program, offering rides in Waymo Driver-equipped vehicles with no driver present.

The company’s Jaguar I-Pace sedans were on prominent display at the opening. Asked if driverless ride-hailing might be a part of the plan for the DFW hub, Waymo’s Garff hinted that “it’s in the consideration.”

But, Cain adds, “Our main focus is to get these trucks off the ground first.”

Building the “world’s most experienced driver”

One of the biggest challenges of driverless technology, Garff says, is that the roads are all driven by individuals who learned how to drive in different places and people who might have different response times. “You have to build that into the system, which is very, very complicated.”

Garff says Waymo is “building the world’s most experienced driver” that can handle those kinds of challenges in an automated way—”every single time with no problems.”

When Waymo first started in trucking, “we did a single shift, five days a week in Arizona,” he said. Today, it’s 24/7 in Arizona and Texas and the company’s vehicles have driven well over 20 million miles—a number that is growing exponentially.

It’s “a lot of miles,” Cain said. But that helps the system “train, train, train” via data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

Cain, who has been with the company for six years and started at Waymo as an operator, says the person in the driver’s seat needs to be a commercial truck driver, or CDL. But the person in the right-hand seat is a software operator with a laptop. That “extra pair of eyes” is creating comments and dropping geotags as data is continually gathered in order to help the company’s engineers train the models, he says.

Waymo’s Peacock says the company is forging the path forward in a tech space where everything is novel in the industry. “It’s novel for everyone: It’s novel for the industry, it’s novel for the legislature, it’s novel for the public,” she said.

As the global head of policy, she appreciates how long the company must work to advance things before they can come to light— which includes building relationships in communities such as Lancaster.

“How do you forge the path forward with confidence and a rigid eye for safety? That’s the North Star that we’re focused on,” she said.

Ensuring self-driving truck safety

As Garff gave community leaders and reporters a tour of the new facility, he also stressed the importance of safety in autonomous trucking.

The trucks themselves, which are manufactured and built in Detroit, are made “roadworthy and ready” in Lancaster through what Waymo calls calibration, Garff said.

Robot Trucks on Texas Highways Herald Era of Driverless Big Rigs

By Thomas Black, Bloomberg

After lumbering through a gravel parking lot like a big blue bull, one of Aurora Innovation Inc.’s self-driving truck prototypes took a wide right turn onto a frontage road near Dallas. The steering wheel spun through the half-clasped hands of its human operator, whose touch may not be needed much longer.

Fittingly for Texas, these Peterbilts are adorned with a sensor display above the windshield that looks much like a set of longhorns. This was the beginning of a 28-mile jaunt up and down Interstate 45 toward Houston in a truck with a computer for a brain, and cameras, radar and lidar sensors for eyes, capturing objects more than 400 meters (437 yards) out in all directions.

The stakes for test drives like this one are incredibly high for the future of freight. If Aurora and other self-driving startups, including Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo, can convince customers and the public that large trucks can be automated safely, the potential efficiency gains are massive. The technology would help ease an unprecedented driver shortage, especially for long hauls that keep truckers away from home for weeks. More importantly, $150,000 big rigs that carry cargo will be able to roll around the clock, dramatically boosting utilization.

Aurora has designed and configured the hardware and software it will use to launch a service toward the end of next year in which roughly 20 trucks will ply highways without a human on board. “We’re now in the phase where we are doing the final refinements and the validation system-wide,” Sterling Anderson, the company’s co-founder and chief product officer, said in an interview just south of Dallas.

Aurora is starting in the Lone Star state for a few reasons. Texas is the US’s largest truck freight market and has long, sometimes very boring, stretches of freeway. Its interstate highway network boasts almost a third more miles than second-ranked California.

Texas also has some quirks that are helping teach Aurora’s system how to deal with unexpected scenarios. One is the incessant building and repairing of roads, resulting in 3,100 construction sites statewide, including 40 or so on Aurora’s route between Fort Worth and El Paso, Anderson said. There’s also the Texas U-turn, the horseshoe-shaped turnabouts at underpasses below major highways in cities and rural areas alike.

“Any Texas U-turn is going be a slightly different situation on account of who’s around you and what they’re doing,” said Anderson, the former head of Tesla Inc.’s Autopilot. “It’s tricky from humans, too.”

It took about a month for Aurora’s sensors and software to master the Texas U-turn, which allows vehicles to reverse course on a highway without hitting a stoplight. The maneuver requires the autonomous truck to yield to traffic coming at it from multiple sides and part of the methodical learning Aurora’s computer does with each test run.

So far, it’s working. Human operators who sit with hands poised to grab the wheel aren’t having to preemptively disengage the self-driving system as often for situations it’s not yet been trained to handle. The ability to navigate through constructions sites has improved dramatically, Anderson said. Aurora, whose other co-founder Chris Urmson used to lead Google’s self-driving program, declined to offer detailed metrics. Unlike California, Texas doesn’t require companies to publicly report the number of times their human test drivers disengage the autonomous-driving systems they’re testing on roadways.

The potential savings arising from commercialization of this technology has attracted customers including FedEx Corp. and trucker Werner Enterprises Inc.Aurora’s marquee investors include  Toyota Motor Corp., Amazon.com Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc., which sold its driverless business to Aurora in 2020.

Safety will be paramount to Aurora’s success. Although there are more than 4,500 fatal accidents involving large trucks and buses each year in the US, with most caused by human error, any such incident with a driverless vehicle would be a major setback to the autonomous technology. In 2018, an Uber self-driving prototype vehicle  hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. The company suspended road testing for months and was rebuked by the National Transportation Safety Board.

For all the risk, the productivity gains from safely moving freight with autonomous trucks would reverberate across the shipping industry. The technology would unleash a “complete transformation of the logistics landscape,” said Steve Viscelli, a University of Pennsylvania sociologist who studies trucking and labor markets and is on Aurora’s advisory board.

Trucks are limited to moving as much as drivers can, which is oftenlimited to eight hours a day or less. In an industry shaped by Sam Walton’s innovation of locating Walmart Inc. stores no farther from a distribution center than a truck driver could reach roundtrip in a day, the range of autonomous trucks may affect a company’s decisions on locating distribution centers and how many it needs, Viscelli said.

Autonomous trucks also could alleviate problems such as drivers sitting around waiting to be loaded or unloaded, or hunting for a place to park. These issues — along with being away from home for long stretches — make it difficult to hire and retain long-haul truckers.

“We get a much more efficient trucking industry,” Viscelli said. “What’s really going to change is that greater asset utilization.”

During the test run near Dallas, the truck’s computer recognized a truck parked on the shoulder of the highway. The driverless rig would normally change lanes to give space for the stopped vehicle, but the system detected a pickup coming up fast on the left impeding Aurora’s truck from changing lanes. The autonomous rig instead slowed down as required by law, then sped up after the shoulder cleared.

On the way back to the Aurora terminal, the Peterbilt came to a halt at a busy four-way stop. The truck waited for one vehicle to proceed, then lurched forward to claim its turn to go. When no other vehicle moved, the truck made its turn, the steering wheel spinning by itself, and headed up the road.