California Reconsiders its Policy on Autonomous Vehicles

By Katherine Q. Zhang, Scott Scoop

A new bill introduced by the California Department of Motor Vehicles in late January requires a trained human safety operator to be present whenever a heavy-duty autonomous vehicle operates on public roads.

If the legislation authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and principally co-authored by Assemblymembers Tom Lackey and Ash Kalra is passed, self-driving trucks over 10,001 pounds will be required to have a safety driver behind the wheel. 

According to the American Trucking Association, there is a shortage of truck drivers, with 78,000 jobs available in 2022 and 160,000 expected openings by 2031 due to the aging workforce. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are a potential solution to this problem.

“We believe AVs hold a promise to improve road safety and to offer new mobility options to millions of people,” said Aiden Ali-Sullivan, manager of state policy and government affairs for Waymo LLC.

The shortage of drivers in the trucking industry has been a significant factor motivating companies to explore AVs as a solution. According to Jonny Morris, the head of corporate affairs at Embark Trucks Inc, the cost of hiring and retaining drivers and the difficulty in finding qualified and reliable ones has put a strain on the industry for years.

“Drivers do a lot more than just drive a truck: they’re involved in a lot of record keeping and human interactions with shippers. Their expertise and improvisation are often valued for off-highway environments,” Morris said.

AVs have the potential to address this issue by reducing labor costs and allowing companies to operate trucks around the clock without the need for breaks or rest time. It also opens opportunities for new jobs.

“We anticipate that several new roles will emerge as part of operations over time, including Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) drivers, transfer hub operations, and yard operations like AV inspections and refueling,” Ali-Sullivan said.

California first allowed the operation of autonomous trucks weighing up to 10,001 pounds on state roads in 2014 with a driver, then in 2018, allowed testing without a driver.  

A group of companies, including Waymo, Aurora, TuSimple, Einride, Uber Freight, and UPS, wrote to California Governor Gavin Newsom in June 2022 to request permission to operate larger AV trucks on state roads. The letter urged the state to increase the allowed weight of AV trucks from 10,000 pounds to 80,000 pounds, arguing that this would improve efficiency and safety in the industry. 

According to Richard Steiner, the head of policy and communications at Gatik, it is important to note that AVs on public roads are still in the testing phase, and any expansion of their use would need to be carefully evaluated and regulated to ensure safety and prevent accidents. 

Expanding on what would happen once AVs are fully developed and approved for on-the-road travel, Ali-Sullivan added his vision for the future.

“We anticipate that once approved, the economic benefits to California will occur very gradually and grow over time. There will be a testing and development process for a new expansion of operations and a longer ramp-up period for us to build out infrastructure,” Ali-Sullivan said.

What Is Autonomous Trucking?

By Jacob Biba, Builtin

Autonomous trucking is a term used to describe self-driving tractor trailers that transport goods. The aim of autonomous trucking is to one day get big rigs and delivery trucks, and the things they carry, from point A to point B without human intervention. Today, autonomous trucks are traveling on roadways in various parts of the United States, like the Southwest, at a limited capacity, often with a safety driver on board to take control if anything were to go haywire.

Autonomous Truck Companies to Know

  • Einride
  • Embark
  • Gatik
  • Kodiak Robotics
  • TuSimple
  • Waabi
  • Waymo


How Do Autonomous Trucks Work?

Autonomous trucks work by using sensing technologies like LiDAR (a sensing technology that uses light to determine distance), radar and optical cameras to gather visual data from the surrounding area, delivering that information to a computer loaded with maps and algorithms that analyzes the information and makes decisions. It’s not too different from how a brain uses what a human eye feeds it to decide when it’s safe to change lanes or make a left turn.

Like other self-driving vehicles, software is the key to autonomous trucking. As a result, most autonomous truck companies aren’t actually manufacturing trucks, they’re writing the code that integrates artificial intelligence with all the sensors, maps, algorithms and other perception tools needed for trucks to forgo human drivers.

“We don’t build the trucks … We make software, and then we have a set of modules that we call Embark Universal Interface that allow a variety of different types of platforms to run that software.”

“We don’t build the trucks,” Alex Rodrigues, CEO and co-founder of Embark, an autonomous truck company based in San Francisco, California, told Built In. “We make software, and then we have a set of modules that we call Embark Universal Interface that allow a variety of different types of platforms to run that software.”

According to Rodrigues, Embark’s software works by breaking down the individual actions required to operate a big rig into steps related to perception, planning, control and vehicle actuation, just like a human driver would.

When Will Autonomous Trucks Be a Reality?

Autonomous trucks are a reality — but they’re not the norm.

“It was assumed that long haul trucking would be the first autonomous delivery use case to commercialize, and it since proved out that it’s somewhat more challenging than was originally expected,” Richard Steiner, head of policy and communications at Gatik, an autonomous truck company focused on middle-mile deliveries between businesses, told Built In.

But Steiner believes autonomous trucking will ultimately become more prevalent — it’s just a few years away.

Over the course of the next few years, companies will have to overcome barriers, like regulation, that are holding the industry back, according to Ann Campbell, a professor of business analytics at University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business.

Getting On and Off Highways

One barrier is related to how autonomous trucks will get on and off highways and how they’ll operate in points of origin, like a port, if they’re going to be fully autonomous, Campbell said. (The most likely solution would be for a human driver to operate the truck in those situations.)

Road Conditions

And then there’s weather and other unforeseen events that happen on highways, like accidents.

“I think that’s where you get the win, is when you’re on the highway and everything’s in good condition,” Campbell said. “But you still probably need what they call a safety driver, at least in some of the trucks, to handle those strange situations.”


Additionally, there’s regulators to think about.

In the United States, more than half the states allow autonomous trucks, but some don’t, making long haul transport difficult.

“If you’re going coast to coast, you may have to encounter a state that doesn’t allow for autonomous vehicles, so you have to go all the way around it,” Steiner said. “There’s a challenge there.”

With autonomous trucks navigating much shorter routes ranging anywhere between a few miles and 300 miles, Gatik has had an easier time overcoming regulatory obstacles, which has put the company in a strong position for growth, according to Steiner.

“Just speaking to our use case — hyper-constrained, structured, point-to-point, fixed, known, repeatable routes — that language has resonated very well with regulators who said, ‘OK, this makes sense to us from a safety framework,’” Steiner said.

‘A Dimmer Switch’

Rodrigues said Embark is aiming for 2024, with a slow deployment — he describes it more as a dimmer switch than a light switch — primarily in the Sunbelt states. “If you’re living in Chicago you’re not going to see self-driving trucks in 2024,” he said, noting the limits on scalability, regulations and ease of use. “But in Phoenix, we might start to see that.”

Embark is also focusing on working with customers to make their system more user friendly and production ready. “There’s a whole lot of work to go from ‘it drives itself’ to ‘it drives itself and we can deliver them at scale and you can turn them on and they just work,’” Rodrigues said.

Will Autonomous Trucks Replace Drivers?

To some degree, autonomous trucks could replace drivers, but there’s already a sizable shortage in the labor market, which is constraining the supply chain as it is. Instead, Rodrigues and others like Campbell see autonomous trucks as improving the quality of life of drivers and making the job more enjoyable.

“Being able to take out that road part and just have the drivers do the part where their technique and skill is really involved could make it a much more interesting job for people,” Campbell said.

“So, you have a pool of drivers who want to be able to work in one city, but then you have a pool of actual routes that are unfilled, that are these long intercity routes … And what we’re able to do is pair those together, where you have the driverless truck do the ferrying across those long distances.”

Because Embark’s self-driving platform is designed for autonomous highway driving — not city centers — Rodrigues believes drivers will be able to work locally in a single city transporting trucks to and from highways, while Embark’s autonomous system guides the truck between those cities.

“So, you have a pool of drivers who want to be able to work in one city, but then you have a pool of actual routes that are unfilled, that are these long intercity routes,” Rodrigues said. “And what we’re able to do is pair those together, where you have the driverless truck do the ferrying across those long distances.”

Will Autonomous Trucks Replace Air Freight?

Autonomous truck companies frequently tout the benefits of self-driving trucks, from increasing efficiency in the logistics industry to cutting transport costs.

“If you look over the next decade, trucking is, fairly obviously, the market that’s going to create the most value for self driving because it solves a really pressing problem in terms of drivers not wanting to be out on the road for long periods of time,” Rodrigues said. “In terms of moving valuable loads 24 hours a day, you get a lot more utilization and you’re solving a real problem.”

As a result, autonomous trucking has the potential to rival air freight, according to Campbell.

“This idea of going to autonomous trucking could really speed up the supply chain so much for a lot of products, that could start to make trucking be really competitive with air freight in a way we’ve never seen,” Campbell told Built In. “And that could have a big impact.”

Essentially, what would normally take several days to transport goods with a human driver, given federal regulations limiting driving time to 11 hours, could be done in as little as one day with an autonomous truck running continuously, stopping only to refuel or for inspections. As a result, companies relying on shipments could adjust the amount of inventory they receive in one shipment and could have smaller warehouses, Campbell said, all of which would reduce operating costs for businesses.

Autonomous Trucking Companies

When it comes to a driverless future in the trucking industry, these autonomous truck companies appear to be in it for the long haul.

Einride is an autonomous truck company based in Stockholm, Sweden. The company’s trucks are electric and operate in the United States and in Europe. Einride secured an additional $500 million in financing last year and was the first company to be approved to operate one of its trucks without a safety driver on a public road in the United States, according to Robotics and Automation News. It conducted its first test run in October.

Kodiak is an autonomous truck company headquartered in Mountain View, California, and began transporting goods in 2019. Its trucks operate in the southern portion of the United States and the company’s 2,500th delivery was made in 2022, according to FreightWaves, a trade publication focused on the supply chain. The same year, one of the company’s trucks completed a 5,600 mile freight run from San Antonio, Texas to San Francisco, California, and then Jacksonville, Florida, before returning to San Antonio, according to TechCrunch. The trip, which was for a private mail carrier for the United States Postal Service, took 114 hours to complete. Also in 2022, Kodiak was awarded a $49.9 million contract to help develop combat vehicles for the U.S. Army, CNBC reported.

TuSimple is an autonomous truck company based in San Diego. Founded in 2015, the company operates in the southwest and southeast regions of the United States, using terminals within its Autonomous Freight Network in cities like Phoenix, Dallas and Orlando. Currently, the company’s trucks operate with a safety driver onboard, but according to its website, in December 2021, one of TuSimple’s trucks operated on a public roadway without a safety driver onboard “while naturally interacting with other motorists.”

Headquartered in Toronto, Canada, Waabi is a relatively new autonomous truck company founded in 2021. Last year, the company released its first self-driving truck which relies on Waabi Driver, the company’s software designed to be integrated during the truck’s manufacturing stage. According to TechCrunch, Waabi’s first run of trucks will be used for commercial pilots and testing.

Waymo is a self-driving technology company born out of Google’s autonomous vehicle project. Through Waymo Via, the company is integrating its self-driving platform, Waymo Driver, to the trucking industry. The company is currently testing autonomous trucks in New Mexico, California, Texas and Arizona.

Self-driving semis focus of California rules, legislation

By Adam Beam, AP News

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — As California regulators explore new rules to put self-driving semitrucks on the road, labor unions are rushing to the state Legislature to ask for a new law they say will protect their jobs — the start of a debate that could shape the future of the nation’s nearly $900 billion trucking industry.

California already has rules governing self-driving cars and delivery trucks that weigh less than 10,001 pounds (4,536 kilograms). Now, the California Department of Motor Vehicles is gathering information for potential new rules that would let self-driving semitrucks on the road that can weigh up to 80,000 pounds (36,287 kilograms).

The rulemaking process takes a long time, and is mostly crafted by officials in Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration. Labor unions aren’t waiting around for that to happen. Instead, they’ve asked the state Legislature — where they have considerably more influence given their prolific campaign contributions — to intervene.

On Monday, more than 100 of members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters joined Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a Democrat from Winters, as she announced new legislation to require all self-driving semitrucks have a human driver present to oversee them.

Labor leaders focused much of their messaging Monday on public safety — an argument seemingly tailored to appeal to the driving public.

Mike Fry, a San Francisco-based truck driver with 27 years of experience, told a frightening story about a passenger car losing control and getting wedged beneath his trailer. Fry said he knew not to slam on the brakes, so he slowly made his way to the side of the road and drove next to some bushes that dislodged the car, which he said “popped the car out like a Pop-Tart.”

“You cannot program instinct into a computer,” Fry told the crowd. “There is no way they can think like that.”

But beyond safety issues, labor unions see the technology as a threat to their jobs. Speakers at the rally attacked what they view as corporate greed, name dropping Elon Musk, the billionaire head of electric vehicle company Tesla. The company has promised to deliver semitrucks that would be able to follow each other autonomously in a convoy.

Lindsay Dougherty, vice president of the western region of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said California has 500,000 commercial truck drivers on the road, giving it outsized importance in terms of shaping national transportation policy.

“So goes California, so goes the rest of the nation,” she said. “If we lose this, we’re never getting them back.”

Multiple companies are testing self-driving technology for semitrucks, and many have eyed California as a place to eventually deploy the technology given its busy ports that require lots of trucks to transport goods to warehouses.

The Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, an industry trade group that supports self-driving technology, has argued autonomous trucks would make for safer roadways, asserting computers make fewer mistakes than humans. Asked about Aguiar-Curry’s bill, the group pointed to a statement from Executive Director Jeff Farrah issued last week in response to a public hearing on potential new state regulations.

“It’s important to remember that it will take time for AV trucks’ full potential to be reached in the Golden State, with deployment taking place gradually over the years to fill in current and future labor shortages,” Farrah said. “Therefore, it is imperative the California DMV begin a rulemaking for development of AV trucks so consumers and businesses can realize these opportunities while also preparing the workforce of tomorrow for this shift.”

Aguiar-Curry said she isn’t opposed to fully self-driving semitrucks, but said she believes the technology isn’t ready.

“There may be a time, 30 or 40 years from now — and I won’t be around to see it — where hopefully that they might be able to do that,” she said. “This isn’t the time to do it. It’s all about timing.”

Full Speed Ahead: Bringing Autonomous Trucks to the Road

By DHL, Freightwaves

The growing severity of the driver shortage, combined with a shrinking number of predictable and set routes and increasing customer demands, is putting the spotlight once again on autonomous trucks. While the technology continues to evolve and show promise, it can sometimes be difficult to separate hype from reality and overpromises from viable ROI.

At DHL Supply Chain, we see the value autonomous trucks can bring to the supply chain, especially in long-haul logistics operations where they offer a new level of optimization unachievable with human operators. Autonomous trucks is one of the technologies we are actively exploring as part of our commitment to accelerating digitalization across the supply chain.

In fact, outdoor autonomous vehicles, including autonomous trucks, is one of the technology trends explored in the recently released DHL Logistics Trend Radar (LTR) 6.0. Spanning technology, business and social trends, the LTR offers insight on the specific innovations and trends becoming reality in the next 5-10 years to inspire change, boost collaboration and ensure supply chain resilience across every industry.

Taking a leadership role

DHL Supply Chain is investing in outdoor autonomous vehicles and working with several companies to move beyond the hype and make the transportation of freight on highways safer and more reliable through automation.

One such partner is Volvo. DHL Supply Chain and Volvo have enjoyed a long collaborative relationship, which includes the deployment of electric vehicles. In early 2022, Volvo Autonomous Solutions (VAS) announced it would offer a new hub-to-hub autonomous transport solution designed to serve shipper, carrier, logistics service provider and freight broker customer segments. DHL Supply Chain is Volvo’s first customer to pilot the hub-to-hub solution.

As part of this collaboration, DHL Supply Chain is now working closely with the company to understand the opportunity, identify any existing challenges and develop a plan to overcome them. Our teams are working together to ensure the technology is designed to meet the needs of the application and operate safely on the road.

With its proven track record of safety and relentless commitment to innovation, Volvo is an ideal partner for us as we look to safely optimize trucking with automation.

Providing a viable option for long-haul routes

Autonomous trucks promise to fundamentally change logistics, but not by completely replacing manually driven trucks in the supply chain. This is part of the hype that needs to be dispelled. DHL Supply Chain and VAS see autonomous trucks as a complement to the transport system we have today. They are not “the” solution, but another solution that will help us meet growing transport needs across the industry.

One area where we see autonomous trucks bringing value as the technology matures is with long-haul transport. Long-haul routes, which generally cover distances of more than 250 miles, tend to be the least desirable jobs for drivers. They can require long hours on the road and days away from family and friends. With the current driver shortage, many applicants are opting out of these types of routes—at a time when many long-haul truck drivers continue to retire.

Federal regulations prescribe driving times and breaks for drivers, which means manually operated trucks have to stop frequently. The aim, understandably, is to minimize the risk of fatigue and prevent possible driving errors. However, an autonomous truck would not be governed by these regulations, significantly cutting delivery times and operational costs.

For example, a manually operated freight truck delivering product from California to Pennsylvania would normally take about nine days, factoring in inclement weather. A rush direct order could take five days. An autonomous truck that would not have to take breaks and could move continuously could conceivably do the same delivery in three days.

Additionally, by driving much closer together at high speeds, two or more communicating autonomous trucks could form a tight platoon, reducing drag and providing up to 20% in fuel savings and reducing emissions.

Furthermore, without the need for a human driver, autonomous trucks can allocate more vehicle space to cargo, lowering transportation costs for each trip. Some autonomous truck designs and prototypes even suggest eliminating the entire truck cab, lowering production and operations costs, while increasing loading capacity and energy efficiency.

Of course, we are not quite there yet. It will still be a few years before we see fleets of autonomous trucks on the nation’s highways. More technology advances and tests are needed, as well as the formation and standardization of rules and regulations before real benefits can be realized.

We continue to work closely with our partners, including Volvo, to evolve the technology for open-road use. While cost savings and efficiency gains are an important part of the equation, safety remains a top focus.

According to the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), 45,900 large trucks were involved in injury crashes on U.S. roads in 2020. Safety in our facilities and in our trucks is a number one priority for DHL Supply Chain. Ideally, autonomous trucking will offer another valuable asset that will help us continue to do our part in decreasing injuries and increasing safety on the roads.

Fleets Begin to get a Feel for the Future of Moving Freight

By Josh Fisher, FleetOwner

Large fleets are starting to get a feel for the future of humanless freight transportation. As various autonomous trucking technology companies and truck makers team up, they are starting to show how the middle mile could transform supply chains and create more home time for the human drivers on their payrolls.

While some of these fleets are going with the OEMs that supply their equipment, others are opting to be part of pilot programs with the technology companies that are penetrating the trucking world with promises of robot trucks hauling freight 24/7 across the Sunbelt in the U.S. The autonomous freight moving right now through these pilots and other test programs has human safety drivers on board, who must adhere to hours-of-service rules and other regulations. But the AV companies are still saying that humans could be gone in the coming years. Until then, it’s about testing out lanes and logistics.

Doug Veatch, VP of strategy at 10 Roads Express (No. 32 on the FleetOwner 500: Top For-Hire Fleets), said his fleet chose to partner with Kodiak Robotics because the self-driving truck company has a similar approach to safety as the for-hire carrier. “The other reason we picked Kodiak is that their product offering might be able to fit in a little better with organizations that are OEM agnostic,” he said of the Kodiak Driver, the autonomous technology that is designed as an upfit for trucks.

“We’re remaining flexible,” Don Burnette, Kodiak’s CEO and founder, told FleetOwner. “We have a platform-agnostic system. We’ve designed the Kodiak Driver to work across multiple manufacturers and multiple models of trucks. We think that’s very important.”

Veatch said that Kodiak’s modular upfit approach could help his fleet find earlier applications than just focusing on a single make and model tractor, which is how some OEMs are developing AV technology.

Volvo Group, which operates Volvo Trucks North America here, is working with autonomous technology company Aurora Innovation to develop AV-powered trucks in the factory. Aurora has partnered with other OEMs, including Kenworth and Peterbilt. The AV company also has partnered with FedEx Corp., Werner Enterprises, Schneider, and other fleets as it develops its technology.

“We are confident in our strong path to market, differentiated technology, and industry-leading team, and we continue to believe autonomous technology will be the next fundamental change in ground transportation,” said Chris Urmson, Aurora CEO and co-founder.

Daimler Truck is working with Waymo to develop its factory-built self-driving Freightliner Cascadia. And Daimler Truck North America also has a majority stake in Torc Robotics, the oldest self-driving technology company in the U.S.

Creating safer, human-less freight movement

10 Roads, a fleet provider for the U.S. Postal Service, has used Kodiak trucks with Kodiak safety operators on board to move freight more than 5,500 miles—from San Antonio, Texas, to the Bay Area in California, to Jacksonville, Florida, and back to San Antonio. The first run was completed in 114 hours. “That’s what we’ve done with them so far this year,” Veatch said. “We’ve been working on finding those lanes as we ramp up to do a little more. But the focus this year was on the coast-to-coast trip.”

Veatch sees the emerging autonomous technology as the next step in the advanced driver assistance systems that are emerging in the trucking industry. “We’ve seen all these advances in technology over the last few years with the lane departure, the crash avoidance—even the camera technology used to identify sleepy or distracted drivers,” he explained. “I think this is the next step in that evolution. The industry has been working on improving safety overall for several years with these improvements. I think this is just the natural progression of using all those technologies together to really start looking at how we can operate more safely.”

With that safety would also come a better work-life balance for his drivers, which Veatch believes the technology would supplement—not replace. “In this day and age, drivers want to have home-daily jobs. That’s what I hear a lot,” he explained. “I think by taking that middle mile and possibly being able to leverage some of the autonomous technology, that makes better jobs for drivers. It also may create more jobs for drivers because you can move more product to the road that is perhaps not on the road today. I think it has the potential of really doing good things for the drivers in the industry.”

Peter Voorhoeve, president of Volvo Trucks North America, said the AV technology development “will go fast—but it’s not a race.” He told FleetOwner he expects the technology to mature quickly, but he wants the focus to be on safety and supplementing fleet operations.

“I think there are a lot of companies that see the application of driverless hub-to-hub operations as complementary to what they’re doing today rather than pushing drivers out of the truck—because that is not going to happen,” he said.

Self-driving journey ahead

Sasko Cuklev, director of autonomous solutions at Volvo Trucks, told FleetOwner that the OEM is working on “an industrialized, scalable solution with safety in mind.”

“We want this product to come out of our New River Valley factory assembly line autonomous-enabled,” Cuklev said. “We are not focused on being first. What we are aiming at is a scalable solution, a commercially viable solution that will solve real-world problems. We will do this together with our customers and support our customers in their transformation.”

One of Volvo Group’s early AV test partners is DHL (No. 67 on FleetOwner 500: For-Hire). DHL Supply Chain and Volvo Autonomous Solutions began working on a hub-to-hub program earlier this year using Aurora-equipped Volvo VNL autonomous trucks.

“We see huge potential in advanced technology solutions like autonomous trucks to address the needs of our customers around efficiency, reliability, and increased capacity, which only hastened during the pandemic,” said Jim Monkmeyer, president of transportation for DHL Supply Chain North America. “But our collaboration aims higher than an autonomous truck. We hope our partnership with Volvo will help shape a safer and more sustainable future for all.”

But when will fleets actually be able to move freight without human drivers or safety operators on board? Most AV companies are still eyeing the middle of this decade.

VTNA’s Voorhoeve doesn’t have a specific timeline other than to say “second part of this decade,” he told FleetOwner. “That does not mean 2029, by the way, but maybe it also is not March 2026. This is technology that is really new, and we really need to take the time to do this in a good way.”

Volvo’s Cuklev noted that there are all sorts of safety-driver-monitored AV trucking demonstrations across the U.S. “But to take the step to operate 24/7 in a long contract every day, have a reliable solution, and a safe solution, we are not really there yet,” he said.

He said that Volvo is still focused on the truck side of the technology “so that we have a secondary or a redundant braking system, a steering system, power management system, communications, and so on. [We need to] have that in place so that we eventually can remove the safety driver. But we are not really there yet. From a demo perspective, it works perfectly fine. I was in one the other week between Dallas and Houston—it worked perfectly. But there is still a journey ahead in order to make it commercially ready.”

But 10 Roads’ Veatch is being patient.

“It’s hard to know when the technology will be both commercially available and broadly accepted in the courtroom of public opinion,” he said. “I’m not sure anybody really knows when those will happen. Our goal is to take this time to be prepared to integrate the AVs when appropriate.”

For 10 Roads, it all comes back to safety and drivers, Veatch said. “There’s really no excuse at the end of the day when drivers don’t get to go home,” he emphasized. “So if there’s technology that will help with that, we want to be on board with it. That’s something that’s very important to the 10 Roads family.”

Waabi Unveils Adaptable Autonomous Driving System for Trucking

By Seth Clevenger, Transport Topics

Self-driving truck startup Waabi has unveiled its core product, the Waabi Driver, an autonomous driving system for commercial trucks designed to learn and adapt to new routes and driving scenarios at a faster pace and lower development cost.

The Waabi Driver combines the company’s autonomous driving software with onboard computing hardware and multiple lidar, camera and radar sensors to monitor the vehicle’s surroundings, the company announced Nov. 16.

Waabi has been utilizing artificial intelligence and simulation to streamline development of the autonomous driving system, which it intends to bring to market in the future through partnerships with fleets and truck manufacturers.

The company is building its virtual driver with the goal of enabling fully autonomous heavy-duty trucks to haul freight in hub-to-hub operations that mainly involve highway driving.

 “The Waabi Driver is the next generation of autonomous driving technology that is built for trucking,” said Waabi’s founder and CEO, Raquel Urtasun. “It’s been purposely built for OEM integration and larger scale commercialization.”

In its first public unveiling, Waabi showcased its system installed on a Peterbilt tractor, but Urtasun said the hardware is designed to be compatible with a range of truck makes.

“It’s highly flexible, meaning that it’s very easy for us to empower the different OEM platforms with our technology so you can potentially serve the entire market,” Urtasun said.

The company said it has been refining the Waabi Driver through an “AI-first” approach designed to improve its flexibility and adaptability.

The virtual driver automatically learns from data and can apply its “learned” skills to new situations and geographies that it has not encountered before, thus accelerating the system’s ability to expand to new routes, Urtasun said.

Waabi has built a simulator to train its autonomous driving system how to navigate “edge cases” — very rare events or situations the vehicle might encounter on the road.

That simulator, dubbed Waabi World, functions as a digital twin of the real world through which the company can more quickly and more safely test the system’s performance against a range of challenging driving scenarios.

“Now I can feed to the autonomy system all those very rare cases in a very frequent manner so that I can understand whether it can handle those or not,” Urtasun said.

By front-loading the development of its self-driving system through simulation, Waabi also has reduced the need for expensive on-road testing, she said.

The company is still conducting on-road tests, but that work is “mostly validation and verification,” Urtasun said, so the company will deploy a “much smaller” test fleet than other developers of self-driving technology for commercial trucks.

While Waabi sees hub-to-hub routes as the first use case for its autonomous driving technology, the company later intends to expand across more geographical regions and to different use cases that include more surface street driving, Urtasun said.

Founded in 2021, Waabi is a relatively new player in the autonomous trucking space.

More than a dozen other technology companies and startups — the majority of which were founded 4-7 years ago — also have been working to bring various forms of highly automated driving to the trucking industry.

Urtasun sees Waabi as part of a “second wave” of autonomous vehicle development focused on bringing this technology to market sooner, and with less capital.

“We represent the next generation,” she said. “We represent a different way to tackle this.”

 The trucking industry is more ready for self-driving technology than in the past, said Vivian Sun, chief commercial officer at Waabi.

Several years ago, fleet executives were asking “if” it’s going to happen, but more recently the conversations have shifted to “when” and “where” it will happen, Sun said.

Waabi, based in Toronto with U.S. headquarters in San Francisco, has been ramping up hiring and assembling a leadership team that includes Dustin Koehl as its head of transportation and Jur van den Berg as principal software engineer.

While Waabi is working to make unmanned trucking a reality in certain applications, the company does not see its technology displacing the industry’s workforce.

Instead, Sun said Waabi’s goal is to supplement drivers and help fill the labor gap for trucking companies struggling with recruiting challenges and high turnover rates.

A new truck driver that enters the industry today will be able to retire as a driver in the future, she said.

In some cases, automation could help improve those jobs.

Sun said self-driving technology could automate driving on long, tedious stretches of highway while professional drivers shift more toward local pickup and delivery jobs that provide more home time.

“We see a hybrid network for a very, very long time,” Urtasun added.

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.

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.”