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.”