Werner, Kodiak Collaborate on Driverless Longhaul Route

By Connor Wolf, Transport Topics

Werner Enterprises has partnered with the driverless trucking technology company Kodiak Robotics to establish an autonomous trucking lane, the companies announced Sept. 29.

The autonomous trucking lane will be used to showcase how efficiently autonomous trucks can be used with a transfer hub model at truck ports.

The partnership started the prior month with a weeklong pilot program involving eight unique trips between Dallas and Lake City, Fla.

“Werner Enterprises is one of the nation’s largest transportation and logistics providers and we are collaborating with them to establish an autonomous trucking lane,” Kodiak CEO Don Burnette said. “Part of that collaboration was to complete a weeklong pilot, which showcased 24/7 operations. That’s something that we’ve really been talking about in the autonomous space.”

Werner had trailers ready for a Kodiak self-driving truck to pick up on both ends of the trip. Its local drivers completed the first-mile pickups and last-mile deliveries once the autonomous truck delivered freight to the transfer hubs. Kodiak said it completed 152 hours of driving time and achieved 100% on-time delivery performance.

“That was to really stress-test the 24/7 aspect of what is possible with an autonomous driver,” Burnette said. “And what we want to do now, and what we’re working with them on, is to find a lane that we can operationalize on a day-in and day-out basis for a long-term project.”

Burnette noted the pilot also aimed to show how efficient the transfer hub model can be. The process involves the autonomous trucks pulling into a staging area where a driver would take control to reposition the tractor onto a trailer. The truck would then be moved to a departure area where the driver would get out before the truck continued on to its destination.

“One of the things that we’re really excited about was that 94% of the miles driven were done successfully in autonomous mode,” Burnette said. “And we think that for a first-time pilot with them, first time working with them, it is a very high percentage.”

The Kodiak Partner Deployment Program was established to help carriers build autonomous freight operations and seamlessly integrate driverless technology into their fleet. U.S. Xpress became the first truckload partner in the program April 7. Its autonomous route ran between the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas and Atlanta. Werner is now the newest partner in the program.

“Working with Kodiak enables us to efficiently incorporate new technologies into our business while giving us a competitive edge,” Chad Dittberner, senior vice president of van and expedited at Werner, said. “We’re eager to establish the hybrid model of drivers and ongoing autonomous lanes to create new and unparalleled levels of efficiency while staying focused on Werner’s value of putting safety first.”

Burnette noted the new partnership is an evolution of what the development program has been able to accomplish so far. The recent week-long pilot was the largest so far with 7,957 miles driven over the eight loads.

“Something I really want to stress is that the autonomy system was running for 152 hours straight,” Burnette said. “Of course we have a safety driver behind the wheel, and we’re swapping out that safety driver and, of course, abiding by all of the hours-of-service requirements that drivers have to do. But the system itself was running for that entire time. And the truck only stopped to fuel, to drop off loads, to pick up loads. And that is really why this is so significant, this is the biggest, longest, highest performing such pilot that we’ve done to date.”

The Kodiak driverless technology has been primarily designed around the highway portions of longhaul routes. Its modular hardware approach integrates sensors into a streamlined sensor-pod structure to optimize monitoring, scalability and maintainability.

“We are building a nationwide autonomous freight network, and part of what we are so excited about is Kodiak’s ability to expand that network quickly,” Burnette said. “More quickly than our competitors can, utilizing what we call sparse mapping technology. That’s a proprietary and innovative mapping system that we’ve develop from scratch in-house, which is really pushing the industry forward.”

Autonomous Driving Company Pony.ai Expands Into Tucson, Arizona

By Sun Corridor Inc.

TUCSON, Ariz., September 22, 2022 – Pony.ai, a leading global autonomous driving technology company, today announces its plan to begin testing its autonomous vehicles in Tucson, Arizona, with trained safety drivers behind the wheel of the vehicles. Pony.ai is partnering with Pima Community College and will base its operations at the new Automotive Technology & Innovation Center, located at its Downtown campus. The new Pony.ai operation is the first and only location in Arizona for the company.

“We are excited to welcome Pony.ai to Tucson as the next site of their autonomous vehicle pilot,” said Tucson Mayor Regina Romero. “Our city is known as a hub for innovation and smart technologies, and now we have a unique opportunity to partner with Pony.ai to test new technologies that can help us create safer streets,” said Romero.

“Tucson is quickly becoming a leading city for tech startups and smart city technology, and Pony.ai is excited to expand our operations there. We want to thank Mayor Romero, the City of Tucson, Sun Corridor, ADOT, and others who made our expansion to Tucson so seamless,” said James Peng, Pony.ai’s co-founder and CEO.

“Pony.ai is the first company in Southern Arizona to launch passenger AV testing. Pima County’s highly skilled automotive workforce, as well as expertise built with TuSimple and others, will greatly benefit Pony.ai in this launch and future expansions,” said Sharon Bronson, chair, Pima County Board of Supervisors. “We’re also excited to see that Pony.ai’s technology vision will include enhanced mobility for underserved populations by providing more reliable transportation for persons with disabilities. I wish them all the success as they establish testing operations in Pima County.”

“Pony.ai’s decision to select Tucson for their new autonomous passenger vehicle testing operations is further validation that Southern Arizona is an emerging player in the autonomous vehicle industry,” said Joe Snell, president & CEO, Sun Corridor Inc. “Pony.ai joins a growing list of companies developing autonomous technologies that have established or expanded operations in the region over the last few years.”

“We are thrilled with the opportunity to become the home of Pony.ai’s operations in the region”, said Lee Lambert, chancellor, Pima Community College. “It aligns perfectly with our vision of the PCC Automotive Technology & Innovation Center to be on the cutting edge of the new automotive technology. Our students will be excited to be at the center of the autonomous vehicle technology action. Welcome, Pony.ai.”

“Arizona is the premier destination for autonomous vehicle innovation,” said Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority. “Pony.ai’s Tucson operations are a valued addition to Arizona’s growing AV ecosystem, which is supported through one-of-a-kind collaborations like the Institute of Automated Mobility.”

To date, Pony.ai vehicles have driven more than 9.3 million autonomous testing and operation miles worldwide. Pony.ai ranked #10 on the 2022 CNBC Disruptor List of 50 of the most disruptive and innovative private companies.

A San Francisco Senior Takes Her First Ride in a Fully Autonomous Vehicle

By Lets Talk Autonomous Driving

Ms. Ng, age 80 of San Francisco, has doctor’s appointments to attend, but getting to and from her appointments makes her nervous. These appointments require her to travel alone in the city and make several transfers.

“My children are not around; I live in San Francisco by myself,” Ms. Ng explained. “Sometimes it’s not convenient to go to the doctor’s, especially because it isn’t so safe nowadays.”

That’s when she decided to contact Self-Help for the Elderly, a nonprofit that has provided assistance and support to seniors in the San Francisco area since 1966. In addition to many other services, Self-Help for the Elderly provides accompaniment services to seniors to ensure their safe travel to activities, medical appointments, and other errands.

“I felt uneasy, so I called Self-Help for the Elderly,” Ms. Ng explained. Self-Help for the Elderly then sent someone to accompany Ms. Ng to her doctor’s appointment, which gave Ms. Ng peace of mind.

Soon, seniors like Ms. Ng could have another safe and reliable option for getting from place to place, and Ms. Ng got to experience it for herself.

Ms. Ng recently took her first ride in a Waymo autonomously driven vehicle, at the invitation of Self-Help for the Elderly and Waymo, an autonomous driving technology company. Self-Help for the Elderly and Waymo have a shared belief that fully autonomous driving technology could one day help San Francisco seniors like Ms. Ng safely get from place to place.

Although she was a bit skeptical at first, Ms. Ng said she was curious about trying the technology.

“I told my daughter. She said go for it,” Ms. Ng said. “I wasn’t sure if it’s safe and comfortable to ride in. I had many questions. Now after this ride, I feel very good.”

Ms. Ng said she was impressed that the vehicle performed well in traffic, could stop automatically for traffic lights, and didn’t require a person to handle. In fact, Waymo’s fully autonomous driving technology is designed to obey traffic laws and even perceive and identify other road users, such as other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, and anticipate what they may do next to help make safe decisions.

“I think that if autonomous vehicles are available, it will be much more convenient for solitary elderly like me because once you call for it, it can deliver you directly to your destination,” Ms. Ng said. “I feel more safe riding in this than in a normal vehicle.”

Ms. Ng said she believes fully autonomous vehicles could one day support the work of organizations like Self-Help for the Elderly.

“With this type of car, things can be simpler,” Ms. Ng said. “Let’s say if I have to go to the doctor or supermarket, I can simply request a car then take the ride. It’s very convenient and safe. I feel really good about it.”

Self-Help for the Elderly provides other services an array of services and is truly a robust One-Stop senior and human services organization. These services could not have been possible without the dedicated staff, many of whom are bi-lingual.

Carol, who is in charge of scheduling accompaniment services at Self-Help for the Elderly, says that program workers and volunteers can go accompany seniors to grocery shopping, local excursions to parks and museums, and more to ensure they live socially connected lives. In just 9 months of work at the organization, Carol and her colleagues from the program have already served about 800 clients.

“I love helping elderly to make their appointments,” Carol said. “As many Chinese don’t know English, I also help them by calling doctors for appointments. Sometimes I translation for them.”

Ms. Ng said she was excited to see what the future will bring, and is very grateful to Self-Help for the Elderly.

“It’s very thoughtful of them to provide these senior services. The officers’ attitudes are also really good. I feel truly grateful,” Ms. Ng said.

Autonomous Impact: Supply Chain Snags

By Torc Robotics

In the vast world of logistics and supply chain management, it’s impossible to deny that trucking is an essential link. In the United States alone, trucking delivers approximately 70% of goods to retail locations nationwide. As we begin crafting more resilient processes to strengthen our production, we’re looking towards innovative new techniques and technologies to further the conversation. At Torc, our self-driving freight technology aims to stabilize the shipping journey, improve efficiency, and add flexibility across the board.

By adding autonomous trucking to the supply chain landscape, we change the conversation in a multitude of ways. From reduced costs to regained time, autonomy takes a transformational look at the way we move goods.

What is the supply chain?

The supply chain is the fundamental process by which goods are created and shipped from suppliers, to manufacturers, through to end users. The name, supply chain, comes from a time when the warehouse-to-store process was simpler. These days, this industrial network is more like an engine: it relies on countless different cogs, wheels, and belts to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

The supply chain encompasses a vast landscape of people, companies, technology, and responsibilities, all organized into segments in the greater supply network. The supply chain also includes moving raw materials and parts to manufacturing facilities, allowing those facilities to assemble and produce the finished products. The greater supply network ranges from raw material providers to big box stores; trucking typically falls in the distribution and transportation stage.

Supply chain distribution is how products get to customers. From food to medicine, distribution allows us all to enjoy fresh produce during the winter months, have access to life-saving medicine, and more. When we say the end user, we generally mean everyday shoppers in your local stores. However, the end user can also be a local business who uses that product to make their own goods. For instance, an ice cream shop owner might be the end user for a carton of cream.

Why are trucks important to the supply chain?

Trucking is a huge industry. In most states, more than half the population cites their primary profession as, “truck driver”, and stateside trucks carry more freight than all other modes of transportation. Trucking alone is responsible for roughly 72.% of the nation’s freight by weight. Needless to say, trucking is an integral link in the freight network.

Truck drivers are responsible for more than just driving, too. Truckers act as logisticians, merchandisers, account representatives, and often even own their own vehicles, meaning that many drivers are entrepreneurs of their own making. From marketing to maintenance, truck drivers carry out a complex amount of planning.

We have the opportunity to streamline and augment the process by providing another mode of moving vast amounts of freight: autonomous trucking. Autonomous trucking will increase capacity for long-haul freight loads, allowing trucking distribution to operate at never-before-seen speeds. Companies and shippers that need to move goods over long stretches of road will benefit from this immense increase in capacity. With the Torc model of autonomous trucking, drivers can spend more time focusing on the logistics and maintenance parts of their businesses, allowing the supply chain to speed up even further.

With this new innovation in-hand, truckers are out of the long hours spend driving cross-country and are in their homes every night. They’ll focus on first-and-last mile pickups and deliveries while autonomous vehicles tackle the arduous task of driving the middle mile.

What happens in a supply chain disruption?

In a supply chain disruption, something snags in the greater development. Disruptions put a stop to the shipping journey, usually with a domino effect that cascades all the way down to the consumer. These kinds of issues can typically be categorized into six groups: cybersecurity, financial viability, geopolitics, man-made, natural disasters, and compliance. In one recent example, a shortage of shipping containers and COVID-19 restrictions caused one of the world’s largest distribution catastrophes to date.

However, not all production issues can be categorized so easily. Some issues come out of left field, halting logistics processes in ways that businesses, suppliers, and consumers alike may not have anticipated. In other words, when a wrench is thrown into the supply chain engine, slowdowns are inevitable. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the mass disruption resulted in an industry-wide realization that it’s no longer enough to pare down the cost of operations. Instead, we have to be proactive in facing potential issues before they occur.

Autonomous vehicles and their capabilities will greatly enhance the transportation and logistics industry by adding another safe mode of transportation to the freight industry’s toolbox. With these factors in mind, the freight industry will be able to tackle advanced complex logistical issues, work out planning challenges, and solve operations issues with greater ease.

Enter self-driving semi-trucks

At Torc, that proactivity starts with self-driving semi-trucks. Instead of focusing in on cost optimization, we’re looking towards smart, sustainable solutions that can respond quickly to unexpected situations. Self-driving semi-trucks answer supply chain issues by saving time and by reducing the cost of goods. With the price of operating lowered due to autonomy’s abilities, the cost of goods isn’t impacted by shipping expenses as much as it has been in the past. Today, shipping expenses account for a significant amount of costs passed down to consumers; in our autonomous future, shipping costs are a minor impact. With full autonomy, operating costs might decline from 46 cents per mile to as little as 31 cents per mile.

We’re developing a self-driving semi-truck that has the possibility of lowering the cost of goods across the board, speeding up delivery to manufacturing facilities, and getting goods into local stores faster than ever. In the autonomous future, the way that trucking is utilized changes completely. From allowing drivers to come home every night to improving fuel efficiency, autonomous trucking has the ability to enhance the trucking world for the better.

As we begin crafting the world of autonomous freight vehicles, we’re launching proactive thinking when it comes to distribution crunches. With the roll-out of autonomous trucking, our ability to predict and gauge the severity of supply chain issues will be greater, resulting in a future that’s smart, sustainable, and scalable.