Waymo takes on self-driving trucks, stepping up competition with Uber

In yet another sign the self-driving wars are heating up, Waymo is getting into the autonomous trucking game.

The Google spinoff says it’s working on developing self-driving trucks that it expects will eventually take over long-distance trucking routes. Human drivers likely will continue to handle local deliveries, the company said.

“Self-driving technology can transport people and things much more safely than we do today and reduce the thousands of trucking-related deaths each year,” a Waymo representative wrote in a statement emailed to SiliconBeat. “We’re taking our eight years of experience in building self-driving hardware and software and conducting a technical exploration into how our technology can integrate into a truck.”

Waymo told SiliconBeat it already has begun testing trucks on its private track in California, and will start road tests in Arizona later this year. The company will have a driver behind the wheel at all times during testing.

Waymo says automating trucking could make the profession safer (trucks are involved in accidents that kill more than 4,000 people every year, according to the company) and narrow the current shortfall of nearly 50,000 truck drivers.

Reuters first reported Waymo’s entrance into the self-driving trucking field.

The move heightens Waymo’s competition against rival Uber, which made its first foray into the field last summer with its $680 million acquisition of self-driving trucking startup Otto. Last fall an Otto truck completed a 120-mile trip in Colorado with no one behind the wheel.

California doesn’t allow companies to test self-driving big rig trucks on public roads, but that may soon change as state regulators continue to adapt their rules to the changing technology.

Uber also is tackling the logistics of trucking. The ride-hailing company last month launched a new app that matches truckers with shipments in need of transport — a service that could come in handy when the company’s self-driving trucks are ready for mass deployment.

Meanwhile, Uber and Waymo are locked in a contentious court battle over key self-driving technology. Waymo says its former engineer, Anthony Levandowski, stole Waymo trade secrets before leaving to start Otto — which it says Uber then acquired with the intention of using those secrets. Uber fired Levandowski this week, under pressure from a federal judge.

Photo: John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, the autonomous vehicle company created by Google parent company Alphabet, introduces a Chrysler Pacifica hybrid outfitted with Waymo’s own suite of sensors and radar at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. (Paul Sancya/AP)


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  • Sergey

    Ok! Waymo wants to launch the self-driving trucks. But what will it change? Generally nothing!
    Maybe the shortage of truck drivers will be a bit lower. Maybe the freight rates will lower a bit. Still before these trucks are launched, the automation era will take place. The companies like Doft, CargoX are launching their Apps. Something like Uber for trucking. These Apps will help shippers arrange the transportation much more effectively.