The Road Ahead for Autonomous Vehicles: Aurora CEO Chris Urmson on the Future of Cars and Trucks

By Todd Bishop, GeekWire

Fully autonomous vehicles are closer to commonplace than you might expect, as cars and big rigs gain the ability to operate safely on our streets and highways.

As one of the pioneers in the field, Chris Urmson has been there almost from the beginning, competing in the landmark DARPA Grand Challenge before leading Google’s self-driving car initiative. Now he’s following through on the vision as CEO of Aurora, which is developing self-driving technology for car and truck makers.

On this episode of the GeekWire Podcast, we’re playing highlights from our conversation with Urmson at the recent GeekWire Summit.

Listen below, or subscribe in any podcast app, and keep reading for excerpts. 

Aurora’s approach: We founded Aurora about six years ago with the mission to deliver the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly and broadly. We’re building the driver technology. We don’t want to build trucks or cars. There’s people who do that really well. We don’t want to build Uber or FedEx or any of the carriers. We want to build the driving technology to power those businesses.

Underlying technology: The driver we’ve built uses a combination of sensors: LIDAR, radar, cameras, our special high-definition maps. We’ve got our proprietary FirstLight LIDAR, which allows us to see further than others can. And we have a lot of computing onboard. It’s this common architecture, common hardware and software that runs everything from the Toyota Sienna through vehicles from PACCAR and Volvo.

Current state of operations: Today we have trucks on the road in Texas pulling loads for customers every day, with people on board, with operators on board. … The vast majority of the time, it’s driving itself. And it’s doing this on the freeway. And it is a very smooth, capable driver at this point. It does the things that you’d want other drivers to do. So if it sees vehicles trying to merge … it will make space and move over. When it sees a vehicle stuck on the side of the road, it’ll slow down, it’ll make space, and do all the things that a good conscientious driver would do.

Why start with big rigs? For a bunch of reasons:

  • There’s just an incredible need for this technology in the U.S. We’re short 80,000 drivers today; we expect to be short 160,000 drivers by the end of the decade. It is one of the contributing factors to the supply chain challenge.
  • Safety is profoundly important. There are about a half-million heavy truck accidents per year. That’s something we can do something about.
  • As a business, the economic opportunity is even better. Trucking today in the U.S. is about a $700 billion industry; ride-hailing is about a $35 billion industry. And so from an addressable market, it’s profound.
  • When we look at the opportunity to build the business and scale it, unit economics are stronger. Said simply, we pay truck drivers three times as much as we pay ride-hailing drivers. And so if you think about introducing a technology, that makes it easier to start to scale the business and then move into other spaces.
  • Finally, from a technology point of view, we expect to be able to scale more rapidly. If you think about what a mile of freeway in Texas looks like, versus a mile of freeway in Minnesota, versus a mile of freeway in California, they’re all basically the same. Whereas, with an intersection in San Francisco, you go five blocks away, and it’s different people, different behavior, different geometry.

What do you say to people who are concerned about safety? First, this is a new technology. It is very rational and reasonable to have concerns and questions and really want to understand it better. That’s perfectly normal and healthy.

Safety is core to the DNA of the company. It’s why we’re as transparent as we are about how we do safety at the company. We’ve shared our framework for how we’re going to convince ourselves and others that the vehicle is safe.

The technology is magical in some ways. It can look in all directions at once. And it doesn’t have the human response of foveation that happens. … There’s an incredible opportunity here for safety.

If you had the option to drive I-5 from the Bay Area to Seattle yourself or have the Aurora Driver drive, which would you choose, safety-wise?

We’re not quite there yet with the Aurora Driver. But we are making really good progress. There’s a lot of the time where I would certainly trust it. Where we’re at with the Aurora Driver is driving up reliability … but we haven’t quite finished yet. If we had, we would be operating without drivers today.

What’s next: We are working to be feature complete at the end of Q1. At that point, the Aurora Driver does everything it’ll need to be part of a product out in the world. But it doesn’t yet do it quite well enough. We’re working towards the end of next year to be ready.

Can Self-Driving Technology Solve the Supply Chain Crisis?

By VB Staff,

Trucking is the lifeblood of the American economy, an industry worth almost $875 billion a year in the U.S. alone. That’s about 4% of the U.S. economy. Over the last few years, the supply chain crisis has impacted everyone, with essentials like construction materials, diapers and milk suddenly becoming scarce in stores.

There are many reasons for the supply chain crisis of the last three years, but a critical cause of bare store shelves is that trucking faces an accelerating set of challenges.  The trucking industry faces a significant labor shortage — 80,000 drivers short, in fact, which is expected to grow to a shortage of 160,000 drivers by 2030. Companies are also facing recruitment and retention problems, with some estimates suggesting that fleets today are struggling with 100% turnover. But the technology to ease the crisis is already on the road.

“Autonomy and automation are going to be what solve the challenges around filling those long-haul jobs,” says Don Burnette, co-founder and CEO at Kodiak Robotics. “And the current supply chain crisis has put a spotlight on how self-driving trucking technology like the Kodiak Driver has the potential to help make the transportation infrastructure more efficient, and also more resilient.”

Kodiak has already announced partnerships with leading carriers and shippers including IKEA, Werner Enterprises, U.S. Xpress, 10 Roads Express and CEVA Logistics. With these partners Kodiak is moving goods across Dallas, and to Oklahoma, Florida and Atlanta.

How automation is filling the gaps in the truck industry

From reliability to job creation, safety and sustainability, automation will have an enormous positive impact across the supply chain, Burnette says. Here’s a look at what automated fleets can do.


More than 4,000 Americans died in accidents involving commercial trucks in 2018. Estimates suggest that more than 90% of those accidents were due to human error.

“Safety is mission-critical,” Burnette says. “Whether we’re running a simulation, testing our hardware or software, or putting our trucks on the road, we hold ourselves and each other to the highest safety standards in trucking, self-driving or otherwise. We optimize 100% for safety.”

An automated driver will never text and drive, drive drunk, or get distracted or drowsy. And because self-driving trucks are more predictable, staying largely in the right lane and maintaining a steady speed, other motorists on the road are going to find that they’re more comfortable around self-driving trucks than they would be around traditional trucks, or even other drivers.

That steady, reliable speed and trajectory can also reduce traffic. Autonomous trucks can avoid busy highways at busy times, drive at night as effectively as they do during the day and avoid busy city centers during rush hour. That dramatically reduces congestion and improves traffic.


The dividends for the efficiency of automated trucks, driving nearly 24/7, is tremendous, Burnette says.

“Our trucks will be able to deliver a load across the country in two days, whereas today it takes four,” he explains. “Think about how that affects the shipper. Think about how that affects inventory. You can start to compete with air freight in that sense at a significantly lower cost. This will create cheaper expedited freight than we have today, and those benefits are going to trickle across the supply chain, across the ecosystem.”

And because these trucks also optimize for fuel consumption, they’re significantly more fuel efficient than human-driven ones — even when operating the traditional diesel trucks in use today. A recent study from UCSD estimates there’s roughly a 10% reduction in fuel consumption for self-driving vehicles, which is a huge win for carriers and private fleets.


Drivers today are restricted to 11 hours per day of driving, and the average long-haul driver spends about seven hours per day behind the wheel. In contrast, autonomous trucks will be able to drive nearly 24/7. They only have to stop to refuel, to receive standard maintenance and to pick up and drop off trailers. That will double or triple the utilization of these trucks, and immediately have a dramatic effect on alleviating the pressure in the supply chain.

Asset utilization is also an especially meaningful metric for shippers and carriers, as they’re only earning when trucks are moving. Being able to operate nearly 24/7 makes trucks more productive and helps freight move faster.

Job creation

Automating long-haul trucking will create more sustainable local and regional jobs, which are the jobs that most drivers actually want to do. One of the reasons it’s so hard to find drivers today is that it is rare anyone wants to spend days and weeks out on the road away from home and from their families.

“We want to create a hub and spoke model where we drive between highway-adjacent hubs,” Burnette explains. “Humans will transfer the trailers to manually driven tractors, and then use human drivers to drive the first and last mile.”

The technology under the hood

The Kodiak Driver, leveraging a unique sensor fusion system and lightweight mapping solution, is purpose-built for trucks on highways. The Kodiak Robotics team has worked on both autonomous cars and trucks, and know from experience that the specifications and operating domain are just not the same.

“We’ve highly optimized our system for this very narrow application, and that has allowed us to make an incredible amount of progress in less time than our competitors while also spending less money,” Burnette says. “We’ve been able to be much more capital efficient with this approach than a lot of our competitors have.”

Mapping in real time

Kodiak relies on its own proprietary, flexible mapping solution called Sparse Maps. Sparse Maps are easy to build, easy to deploy broadly, and especially suited for the highway environment. Rather than relying on HD maps, Sparse Maps is a much lighter-weight mapping system that puts more focus on perceiving the environment in real time, detecting and reacting to the environment, instead of relying on stored map data which can easily go out of date.

Innovative sensor pod technology

Kodiak’s SensorPod system contains virtually all of the truck’s sensors within a single modular pod, replacing the truck’s stock side-view mirrors. Unlike traditional autonomous sensor systems, Kodiak’s SensorPods come pre-built and pre-calibrated, so they can be changed without any specialized training or equipment — which means they can be serviced quickly out on the open road, as easily as changing a tire.

“That is a game changer when it comes to uptime and efficiency for these fleets,” Burnette says. “That’s the number-one metric that the trucking industry relies on.”

The first completely autonomous trucks will start to roll out in the next couple of years, Burnette predicts. “We are at a point where we’re refining and validating the self-driving vehicle,” he says. “Soon we’ll be able to see all the safety and efficiency benefits we’ve been talking about and currently demonstrate with a safety driver.”

Future of Mobility: MSU Taking the Wheel with R&D, Educating Talent

By MLive, Michigan State University

Sparked by the Curved Dash Oldsmobile in 1901 and accelerated by Ford’s pioneering assembly lines, automotive production in Michigan has been at the forefront of the mobility industry for more than a century. Still today, there are more than two dozen original equipment manufacturers in our state supplying automakers worldwide.

For Michigan to remain the trailblazer in travel and transportation into the next generation of self-driving cars, it’s going to require two of the same ingredients that put the state on the map in the early 1900s: innovation and talent. Fortunately, Michigan’s mobility industry has a strategic partner in Michigan State University.

MSU is conducting cutting-edge research and educating students who are shaping the future of mobility, both in Michigan and across the globe, by creating integrated systems of communication and control that enable automated vehicles to understand their environment and navigate it safely and efficiently.

“Michigan State plays an absolutely vital role in the growth of the companies that are here and the companies that might want to move here,” said Glenn Stevens Jr., executive director of MICHauto and the Detroit Regional Chamber’s vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives.

“There really isn’t any cluster in the world like the one that exists in Michigan with regard to automotive and next-generation mobility technology. It’s the sum of the parts, and Michigan State is one of those very significant parts that make up that unique ecosystem.”

Stevens is a member of the MSU Mobility Advisory Council, a public-private partnership created to strengthen the connection between Michigan’s mobility industry and MSU’s academic and research excellence. The council members come from academia, the auto industry, economic development, technology and beyond to help inform MSU’s vital contributions to mobility research and talent development.

First, let’s look at some of the groundbreaking mobility research underway at MSU:

  • MSU has nearly 50 experts and their connected staff researching autonomous and connected vehicle technology. MSU has a long history of working with the mobility industry and is continuing to do so through nearly $75 million of research and development in autonomous and connected vehicle technology over the past five years alone. That research is focused on making vehicles and roadways safer and more efficient for the future by reducing accidents, saving lives and improving mobility and productivity. MSU is doing this by developing a variety of new technologies, from algorithms that autonomous vehicles use to understand and navigate the driving environment in any weather conditions to sensors that foster communication between the vehicle and the streetscape and even pedestrians via their phones. “We are trying to build a smart city,” said Satish Udpa, interim director of MSU Mobility.
  • MSU’s campus is the perfect test bed for autonomous and connected vehicle systems. With a self-contained mix of urban, suburban and rural areas, the 5,200-acre East Lansing campus offers an unrivaled real-world ecosystem for testing the autonomous and connected vehicle tools that are revolutionizing the way people and goods move around. A self-driving electric bus and two autonomous test cars are collecting reams of data through cameras, lidar and other technology and using it to understand the surrounding environment that features 60 lane-miles of road, nearly 40 traffic signals, more than 100 miles of pedestrian walkways and 30,000 other vehicles per day. MSU researchers are using that data to fine-tune and validate autonomous and connected vehicle technologies. “The biggest challenges lie in the interface between man and machine,” Udpa said. “Our test bed happens to be in a setting where it comes across real human beings. It’s a living, breathing test track.”
  • MSU is researching the best ways to implement large-scale electric vehicle use. As the internal combustion engine begins phasing out in favor of electric vehicles, there are many things to consider, from improving battery performance so people can drive farther before recharging to enhancing charging capacity so that everyone in town for a game at Spartan Stadium can charge up for the ride home. “The challenge is how do we manage things like that,” said John Verboncoeur, associate dean for research in MSU’s College of Engineering. “The infrastructure support is absolutely critical and will become more critical as we move away from internal combustion engines to plug and play.” MSU is currently adding nearly 370 electric vehicles on campus and offers more than 60 EV charging stations.

Combined with the unique test bed that is the MSU campus, the abundance of research expertise among faculty in a range of disciplines makes MSU the perfect partner for the mobility industry in Michigan. In turn, ensuring that Michigan remains at the epicenter of mobility going forward is a worthy cause for a leading research university tasked with education and economic development in our home state.

As a result, next-generation mobility technology is now one of MSU’s principal areas of research and innovation.

“We look to Michigan State from an industry perspective as one of the leaders working on next-generation mobility solutions, and that’s everything from materials science to road infrastructure to engineering for autonomous and connected vehicles,” Stevens said.

Now, for the talent side of the equation:

  • MSU is a leading producer of mobility talent in Michigan. Nine out of every 10 MSU engineering students complete internships with companies in Michigan, and two-thirds of engineering graduates go on to work in Michigan. That’s a much higher ratio than peer universities elsewhere in the state. Since MSU provides so much of the engineering talent in Michigan, and because the automotive industry has called Michigan home for more than 100 years, the university is uniquely positioned to turn out graduates prepared to drive the future of mobility. “We really are the plurality supplier of talent in Michigan,” Verboncoeur said. “The mobility industry is the largest industry by far in the state of Michigan. The state thrives with that industry, and we have a responsibility to make sure we provide the best and brightest for that.” Moreover, MSU is a major part of the state’s University Research Corridor, which is the nation’s top university innovation cluster in preparing students for careers in the mobility industry.
  • MSU is preparing mobility talent in a wide range of areas. It’s not only MSU engineering graduates who are making an impact in the mobility industry, of course. Mobility has become increasingly multidisciplinary, with students in computer science, data science, social science and many other fields playing a big role as vehicles evolve. For example, whereas electronics accounted for about 5% of a car’s cost just a few decades ago, that share will soar to 50% by 2030 as vehicle connectivity increases. “There really is a blur between the auto industry and the tech industry,” Stevens said. Through partnerships such as the MSU Mobility Advisory Council, MSU better understands the industry’s needs and is bringing its academic and research excellence to bear in a variety of fields through interdisciplinary collaboration between about 50 researchers within seven different colleges. That all creates frontline training opportunities for students. “When you look at mobility, there has to be an interaction between engineering and business but also social sciences and other parts of the university,” Stevens said. “Michigan State is advancing all types of degrees that the mobility industry needs. Michigan State plays a really important role as part of the development of our talent pipeline.”

Automotive infrastructure has built up in Michigan over the past 100-plus years, and the industry continues to be central to our state’s well-being. Now, as the industry evolves, MSU continues to move in step with the needs and opportunities in Michigan through pioneering research and talent development, as well as new investments that will mold mobility going forward. For example, a new Engineering and Digital Innovation building in the planning stages would further accelerate MSU’s innovative R&D and reinforce the talent pipeline that fuels the heart of the mobility industry in Michigan.

Looking back over the past century of mobility, it was perhaps a happenstance of history that Detroit became the Motor City and Michigan became the hub of automobile manufacturing. But it’s no accident that our state is fast becoming the mobility mecca of the future, too. It’s happening in part because MSU is taking the wheel.

Now is a golden age of opportunity for MSU mobility researchers and students alike.

“The future of mobility is so closely tied to our future in Michigan, what better way to serve the citizens of this state than to make sure we never ever lose our leadership position?” Udpa said.

“Mobility is going to define ways in which we as a society will live for the next 20, 30, 50 years. That technology is happening now.”

Biden Administration Launches New Workforce Program For Emerging Technology Jobs

By Shalin Jyotishi, Forbes

The Biden administration has launched a new workforce development funding program to help people, including those at community colleges, gain skills for emerging jobs in fields like AI, biotechnology, quantum science and new areas of advanced manufacturing and semiconductor.

Administered as a grant competition by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the federal agency that supports research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering, the Experiential Learning for Emerging and Novel Technologies (ExLENT) program will provide $30 million to fund partnerships between workforce development entities and organizations with expertise in emerging technologies.

The ExLENT program is housed within the NSF’s Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP) arm which launched earlier this year to help translate federal investments in research and development into new technologies, startups and jobs that benefit communities and support economic development.

The program will fund 25 to 35 partnerships in amounts up to $1 million amounts given over three years to support “experiential learning” opportunities in emerging technology fields.

The NSF describes experiential learning as including internships, externships, apprenticeships, co-op experiences, project-based learning and other work-based learning programs that could either expose more people to emerging technology fields, help them gain the necessary skills to obtain jobs in those fields, or both.

The funding can be used to support learning opportunities targeted at adults or youth, regardless of whether they are currently students at an accredited college or university.

Organizations can apply for funding from ExLENT to support three kinds of experiential learning programs that cater to people with varying STEM skill levels:

Explorations Track: Provides participants with no prior STEM experience with an experiential learning opportunity that builds interest, motivation, and knowledge in an emerging technology field and inspires them to explore pathways to careers in these areas.

Beginnings Track: Provides participants with a limited STEM experience an experiential learning opportunity to gain more experience to pursue a career in an emerging technology field.

Pivots Track: Provides current professionals in any field with an experiential learning opportunity that equips them with the necessary skills to pivot into careers in emerging technology fields.

Emerging Technology Training at Community Colleges

While some community colleges obtain workforce training funding through NSF’s Advanced Technological Education program, four-year universities historically win the bulk of NSF grants that fund graduate and undergraduate-level STEM education and training.

That may be changing. As shared in an interview for New America, the inaugural head of NSF’s TIP Directorate, Erwin Gianchandani, emphasized the importance of community colleges connecting to innovation economies and offering pathways to jobs in emerging technology fields, especially the ones NSF is hoping to promote through its research funding.

In an email from the NSF announcing the ExLENT program, Gianchandani stated that “this program acknowledges that traditional STEM education pathways are not by themselves sufficient to address the large workforce shortages that the nation faces today in emerging technology areas.”

Emerging technology fields will almost always need universities to prepare skilled talent such as PhD-level scientists and engineers, but many fields require a technician-level workforce that is well suited to a community college-level education.

Community colleges offer many of the learning opportunities described by NSF through their degree programs but especially their workforce development and continuing education arms.

Workforce training programs for emerging technology fields are still rare at community colleges, but more colleges are beginning to respond to this new need.

Intel’s CEO Pat Gelsinger, a community college graduate himself, has publicly advocated for an expanded role of community colleges in emerging technology training, and Intel has partnered with the American Association of Community Colleges to expand AI workforce training programs at community colleges in all 50 states by next year.

So far, the programs range from two-year degrees to bootcamps, short courses, and K-12 level immersion programs that could be good candidates for ExLENT funding.

Research by Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology has also called for more for AI education at the community college level, citing colleges’ workforce development expertise and the fact that they enroll a more diverse student population than most 4-year universities. An explicit mandate of ExLENT is to help diversify emerging technology fields.

Federally Supported Pathways to the Future of Work

ExLENT could follow in the footsteps of other federal programs that have successfully supported community college partnerships that lead to jobs in emerging technology fields.

Pima Community College in Arizona recently launched the first certificate program for autonomous vehicle truckers with TuSimple, the first autonomous vehicles company to go public in the United States. The partnership was supported in part by a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s University Transportation Centers Program.

And in Tennessee, Pellissippi State Community College partnered with the federally-funded Oakridge National Laboratory and the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation to offer enhanced advanced manufacturing training. The partnership U.S. Department of Defense’s Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment program.

Since NSF’s ExLENT program hopes to connect workforce development organizations with emerging technology experts, it could be just the catalyst community colleges need to create or expand their partnerships with employers, research universities, technology-based economic development organizations, federally-funded research and development centers, and other entities focused on developing and deploying emerging technologies.

NSF has launched a newsletter for ExLENT and will host an introductory webinar for prospective applicants on November 1st, 2022. Initial applications will be due in March 2023.

Nuro’s Summer of STEM — Inspiring the Workforce of the Future

By Nuro Team, Medium

Every summer, millions of students spend their days in a variety of activities and camps. This is a great opportunity for students of all backgrounds to get exposed to and inspired by new concepts, new environments, and new technologies. This year, Nuro launched “Summer of STEM” — an initiative focused on supporting education programs that deliver effective Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) engagement and education opportunities to learners of all ages and backgrounds.

Nuro employees volunteered hundreds of hours with over 600 students participating — learning about Nuro’s autonomous vehicles, the technology behind our neighborhood delivery services, and the current and future career opportunities at companies like Nuro.

Below, we highlight some of the wonderful programs, with links to learn more. Nuro welcomes inquiries for tours, speakers, or other opportunities to share this innovative technology with students in local communities — contact us at [email protected] for more information.

Wilcox High School (Santa Clara, CA) and Wender Weis Foundation Tour with De Anza College

Nuro partnered with the Wender Weis Foundation for Children to host a tour of our Proto-Manufacturing Facilities Facility in Santa Clara for automotive technology students at nearby Wilcox High School. The students got an inside view of the vehicle building process and maintenance of our autonomous fleet, talked with Nuro employees about their roles, and learned about Nuro’s Autonomous, Electric Vehicle Technician Pathway Program with De Anza College — featuring a College-level seminar on automotive technology.

Hydra Hacks hackathon and workshops

Hydra Hacks is “the West Coast’s largest hackathon for marginalized genders.” This year’s hackathon involved a combination of coding/programming workshops and a hackathon competition with over 200 high school and college participants. Sponsored by Nuro, and led by Nuro’s employee resource group (ERG), Women of Nuro, employees volunteered as mentors and judges.

Houston TechConnect Summer Series

The TechConnect Initiative, organized by Houston City Council Member Karla Cisneros, brings STEM activities to underserved youth at park community centers in District H. Nuro showcased our autonomous vehicles and sponsored lunch for the participating students. Nuro was able to speak with youth participants on the importance of studying STEM fields.

Hidden Genius Career Career Exploration

The Hidden Genius Project, with programs in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Detroit, “trains and mentors Black male youth in technology creation, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills to transform their lives and communities.”

As part of their Business Trip series, students from the Hidden Genius Project Intensive Immersion Program visited Nuro HQ to learn about computer science applications and entrepreneurship. In addition to a tour of the office, demonstration of the autonomous technology, and talk from Nuro CTO Andrew Clare, the Geniuses heard from a panel of current Nuro employees who are members of the Black @ Nuro ERG group about their career path and experience.

Mineta Summer Transportation Institute

The Mineta Summer Transportation Institute is a program for Bay Area high school students to learn about transportation careers on-campus at San Jose State University. Nuro provided an inside look into our technology and business with a lecture and demonstration of the R2 autonomous vehicle. Students were then assigned a presentation topic related to a potential launch of Nuro neighborhood delivery services in San Jose. They had to consider, who should we partner with, what could be delivered, and how we can let the community know about this technology.

Bay Area STEM Festival and Technology Showcase

Throughout the year, Nuro participates in a variety of community events in our operating regions. This summer, two Bay Area block party events focused on technology being developed in the region: the Apricot STEM Festival organized by the Los Altos History Museum and Technology Showcase by the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce. Youth and community members saw Nuro vehicles and talked to Nuro staff about the autonomous testing and delivery services happening in their neighborhoods. A few school robotics teams even provided demonstrations of their own ‘basketball shooting’ robots built for national FIRST Robotics Competitions.

Self-eSTEM mentoring and summer camp

Based in Oakland, CA, Self-eSTEM “builds the self-esteem of girls and young women from untapped communities, while providing interactive, culturally responsive STEM literacy, leadership, and technical training to leverage STEM as a foundation for social and economic growth.”

This summer, Nuro team members volunteered at Self-eSTEM’s Summer Exploration Camp in Oakland and attended their “Conversations in STEM” panel event to share stories of how they apply STEM education to their work at Nuro. We will host the students for a tour of Nuro HQ and lunch with the Women of Nuro ERG this winter.

Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action Green Careers Bus Tour

Prior to schools starting, the student-led Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action group organized a “Green Careers Bus Tour” of local companies focused on sustainability. Nuro was honored to be included in the group’s events; providing a tour of our offices, sharing best interview practices by our recruiting team, and presentation by Greenwork, a Nuro partner, ​​using their technology platform to connect skilled labor with jobs in green construction and manufacturing industries.

Bay Area Robotics Teams

Some students are already well on their way to careers in STEM, leading some of the top High School robotics teams in the country. Throughout the year, Nuro hosts these students to see and interact with our (slightly larger) robots, and learn about the similar technologies powering our autonomous systems. This summer, students from Mountain View, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Fremont, Los Gatos, San Jose, and other nearby cities visited the Nuro HQ for demos, pizza night, and exciting discussions on the future of robotics

IKEA Teams with Self-Driving Truck Startup Kodiak Robotics to Test Deliveries in Texas

By John Rosevear, CNBC

Self-driving truck startup Kodiak Robotics said that it has begun a pilot program with IKEA in Texas.

A semitruck equipped with Kodiak’s autonomous driving system is making daily delivery runs from an IKEA warehouse near Houston to a store close to Dallas, roughly 300 miles away.

The trucks have human safety drivers on board, but they’re being driven by Kodiak’s autonomous-driving system.

Kodiak’s CEO, Don Burnette, said that he isn’t looking to put truck drivers out of business – in fact, he’s aiming to make their lives easier.

“Adopting autonomous trucking technology can improve drivers’ quality of life by focusing on the local driving jobs most prefer to do,” Burnette said. “Together [with IKEA] we can enhance safety, improve working conditions for drivers, and create a more sustainable freight transportation system.”

This isn’t Kodiak’s first self-driving rodeo. The company has been running freight in Texas with its autonomous test trucks since 2019, and recently opened a new route between Dallas and Oklahoma City. Kodiak has also conducted pilot tests with logistics giants Werner Enterprises and U.S. Xpress, running self-driving trucks on routes from Dallas to Lake City, Florida, and Atlanta, respectively.

Texas has become a hotbed for self-driving truck testing, in part because of favorable regulations — and also because the long highway stretches between its cities are ideal for automation. Waymo, the Alphabet subsidiary that grew out of the Google Self-Driving Car Project, has been testing a fleet of self-driving Freightliner semitrucks (with human safety drivers) on a route between Dallas and Houston for several months.

Self-driving truck startup Aurora Innovation has also been testing trucks in Texas. Aurora began a Texas pilot with Werner Enterprises in April, running on a 600-mile stretch between Fort Worth and El Paso. Another startup, TuSimple, has been testing its self-driving semitrucks in Arizona and is planning to expand to Texas next year.

Werner Wants to ‘Stay at the Forefront’ of Autonomous Tech

By David Taube, TransportDive

Werner Enterprises’s partnerships with autonomous trucks are spanning perhaps as far as the vehicle tests are operating.

The carrier has connected with several startups, such as Aurora Innovation, Embark and Kodiak Robotics, in a bid to see which companies will produce results, executives told Transport Dive in an interview Oct. 4.

“Autonomous is one of the areas where we like to stay at the forefront to understand what’s coming at us,” Werner Senior Vice President of Van/Expedited Chad Dittberner said. “We’re working with many different companies in the autonomous space to understand how they’re all progressing.”

Executives with the transportation and logistics provider said not every tech company is going to reach the results they’re pursuing, but partnerships allow Werner to evaluate how the driverless features progress.

“It’s really hard to pick the winners and losers. At this point it’s pretty early,” Werner Chief Commercial Officer Craig Callahan said. “We want to be in a position to be towards the front of the line in the event that … there’s a really fruitful byproduct that comes from this.”

Dittberner said they don’t know when production will become a reality, but there’s not a requirement to reach that point at a certain date.

Instead, the company is lending its support and perspective as the process moves along. “It also allows us a seat at the table to be able to provide guidance and direction to these companies that are trying to shape the future of our industry,” Callahan added.

The goal of the technology is to ultimately remove drivers from the seat, but Werner still views drivers as fundamental to its business. The technology could pave the way for more safety upgrades and transform longhaul trucking in the future, Callahan said.

While tech companies race to commercialize the technology, that transformation could still be years away.

“When is the end? We don’t know that answer. We believe it’s years away,” Dittberner said. “But what we do know is a lot of the safety features that our drivers have on our new equipment today have come from this autonomous quest.”

Torc, Daimler Enter Fourth Year of AV Collaboration

By Staff, FleetOwner

Daimler Truck AG subsidiary Torc Robotics and its parent company are entering the fourth year of their collaboration on commercializing long-haul autonomous trucks for the U.S. market.

Since Daimler Truck’s majority share investment in Torc in 2019, the two have worked to be the first to commercialize a profitable autonomous truck solution. Torc continues to operate as an independent subsidiary and serves as the lead between the two for autonomous driving system development, innovation, and fleet testing out of its Blacksburg, Virginia, headquarters.

“Bringing a safe Level 4 autonomous truck to market is by no means a simple task,” Torc CEO Peter Vaughan Schmidt said. “Over the past three years, we have benefited from the strong collaboration with Daimler Truck, bringing us significantly closer to our goal of developing a highly optimized self-driving truck that will meet the fleets’ needs for cost, safety, and performance. The teamwork shown has been outstanding so far, and we’re entering our fourth year of partnership with a clear roadmap—focusing on one manufacturer and one initial use case in one geographic area.”

Torc Robotics occupies an increasingly crowded market space for autonomous research and development that also includes TuSimple, Embark, Kodiak Robotics, Waymo, Gatik, Peloton, and Locomation.

Torc launched two new facilities this year, the first in January in Austin, Texas, a 21,000 square-foot engineering-focused product development center. Torc chose Austin because of the city’s commitment to innovation and talent pool that is driving technology development and product growth.

In April, Torc opened a 30,000-square-foot technology center in Stuttgart, Germany. Torc Europe GmbH taps into talent in one of Germany’s prime automotive development regions. The Stuttgart team supports the development of SAE Level 4 virtual driver for deployment in autonomous trucks in the U.S. The virtual driver is made up of the software and computing components for the AV driving system.

Since last year, Torc doubled its headcount to more than 600 and hired seven executives with wide experience in emerging technologies and transportation. The company also brought on board a new CEO, Schmidt, who is the former head of Daimler’s Autonomous Technology Group. Torc founder and former CEO Michael Fleming is remaining on Torc’s board of directors.

In late March, the company announced the launch of the Torc Autonomous Advisory Council (TAAC) to gain insights from trucking industry stakeholders and address requirements for integrating autonomous technology into the freight network. TAAC and Torc leaders are meeting quarterly throughout the year in addition to independently collaborating on critical areas such as integrating autonomous trucks with current freight operations and regulatory challenges in the U.S.

Torc and Schneider recently announced that the trucking company, which is No. 11 on the FleetOwner 500: Top For-Hire Fleets of 2022, will serve as a partner for Torc’s autonomous test fleet. Schneider will lend freight loads for Torc’s pilot operations and insights on truckload freight that will help guide the development and ongoing commercialization of long-haul autonomous trucks.

In preparation for a full hub-to-hub experience, Torc further developed its capabilities for highways, including complex merges and lane-change maneuvers. Other proficiencies of Torc technology include autonomously detecting and reacting to traffic lights and navigating complex intersections. Torc also recently started running its vehicles with an updated sensor suite, computers, and additional integrations that further testing efficiency as the team scales its autonomous fleet.

Launching the Waymo Accessibility Network

By The Waymo Team, Waypoint

Since our founding, Waymo has partnered with and listened to advocates for people with disabilities. As we continually improve our technology, we will strive to put individual passengers – with their diverse needs and experiences – at the center of our product to co-create the Waymo One ride-hailing service together.

Today, we’re launching the Waymo Accessibility Network to formalize and scale our longstanding collaboration with disability advocates. This will expand inclusion of their crucial voices and valuable perspectives as we work together to shape the future of transportation.

The Waymo Accessibility Network brings together disability advocates who share in the mission of improving access, mobility and safety in our communities. Through the network, Waymo will partner directly with organizations that support people of all ages with physical, visual, cognitive and sensory disabilities. Members include both national advocates and community-based nonprofits serving the cities where Waymo One operates.

“Establishing the Waymo Accessibility Network is our latest step in ensuring our transformational rollout of autonomous technology is inclusive and equitable,” said Chris Ludwick, Waymo Product Management Director. “Consistent, two-way communication with the disability community will help Waymo research, design and deploy accessible solutions for all of our riders.”

We are excited to announce that the 13 inaugural members of the Waymo Accessibility Network include the national nonprofits American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), National Federation of the Blind, United Spinal Association, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Epilepsy Foundation of America, Blinded Veterans Association, United Cerebral Palsy and the American Council of the Blind; San Francisco-based LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco and Self-Help for the Elderly; and Arizona-based Foundation for Blind Children and Foundation for Senior Living.

“Involving the disability community from the ground floor in technological advancements is the key to being a true champion of inclusion for today’s leading innovators,” said Vincenzo Piscopo, President & CEO, United Spinal Association. “The arrival of fully autonomous vehicles is especially eagerly awaited by the disability community—and we have been striving to make our voices heard in the development of this landmark technology. The Waymo Accessibility Network will elevate the dialogue that Waymo has consistently maintained with our community, and sets an example for their peers in the AV space to follow.”

The Waymo Accessibility Network will work directly with member organizations to conduct user research, product testing and more. This invaluable feedback will help us build upon Waymo’s current accessible design features, like audio cues, screen readers, rider support chats, educational tips and more.

“Forming this network deepens our established relationships with these key accessibility stakeholders,” said Heather Aijian, Waymo Public Affairs Manager. “Only by continuing to listen to and learn from the foremost disability advocates can we move forward together to make mobility more accessible.”

“We have provided our expertise and lived experience to our partners toward the design and development of accessible autonomous vehicle technology for more than ten years,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “Extending our partnership through becoming a member of the Waymo Accessibility Network holds the promise of a truly accessible driverless experience leading to freedom-enhancing transportation options that increase employment opportunities and improve the quality of life for blind people and people with other disabilities.”

This year, Waymo was honored to be recognized as a national semifinalist in the US Department of Transportation’s Inclusive Design Challenge, a formal invitational meant to further creative product thinking around inclusive mobility. As part of the challenge, Waymo partnered with many groups affected by lack of mobility options, including some of our long standing partners in our Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving public education initiative. Our partners provided feedback and insights that shaped our submission, and we’re proud of the features that we designed and integrated into our Waymo One service as a result of the challenge.

At Waymo, we have always believed that an inclusive design process makes the end product better for everyone, and we know we’re building a journey, not just a technology. To refine the details of touchpoints along the journey, collaboration with people with disabilities has been and will continue to be indispensable.

Waymo believes in the disability community’s mantra “nothing about us without us” as we leverage technology to bring new transportation options to the marketplace. We look forward to continuing this work and welcoming additional organizations as we grow and scale the Waymo Accessibility Network.