Waymo Getting Into Self-Driving Heavy-Duty Trucks

Alphabet’s Waymo company is getting ready to enter the autonomous trucking business.

The Google division is testing hardware and software on a Class 8 heavy-duty Peterbilt semi on a private test track in California. Highway testing is to be conducted later this year in Arizona. A test driver will be riding along, the company said.

“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,” said the company in a statement.

The company is entering a space that’s gained a lot of attention since the launch of the Otto self-driving truck company last year and its acquisition by ride-hailing giant Uber. Otto had demonstrated its system with tests in Nevada, and through delivery of Budweiser beer in Colorado during October 2016.

Legal warfare against Uber has been waged by Waymo over alleged theft of its self-driving technology that it claims is being used in Otto trucks.

Former Google engineer, and Otto co-founder, Anthony Levandowski, was fired by Uber this week. Media reports said he’d failed to comply with a request to return stolen material. Levandowski may face criminal charges for his actions coming through referral of the case by a federal judge to the U.S. Justice Department.

Besides the lawsuit, Waymo has made a few sizable moves in autonomous vehicle technology in recent months. The company has a pilot project with Uber’s rival Lyft, and launched a public rider program in Phoenix. The Phoenix demonstration project allows locals to take rides in autonomous Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivans.

Waymo will be acquiring more of those Pacifica Hybrids from FCA, and has been having talks with Honda about establishing a technical partnership.

Uber just launched a division called Uber Freight, which joins truckers and customers together using the same model it uses for car rides. Commercial truck and van operators can use the new mobile app to link up with end users who need cargo transported on city streets and highways. Uber Freight serves as the broker bringing the parties together.

Uber is staying out of self-driving trucks until the lawsuit is settled.

SEE ALSO:  Otto Self-Driving Truck Tests in Ohio; Violated Nevada Regulations

Last year, Daimler Trucks tested three autonomous heavy trucks moving in a tight “platooning” formation on a German highway.

The German company has made a commitment to rolling out autonomous trucks at some point.

Also last year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk published his “Master Plan, Part Deux,” where he announced that heavy-duty electric trucks will be launched by the company. In April, he said that Tesla will be announcing an electric cargo semi-truck in September.

Musk has indicated that it likely would have some autonomous-driving features now included in Tesla’s passenger cars. It’s not clear if that means fully automated or semi-autonomous features used in the Autopilot system.


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