Waymo announced today that its self-driving trucks will deliver freight in Atlanta. The trucks will not be completely alone because there will be highly trained drivers in the cabs, just in case anything goes wrong.
This pilot, in partnership with Google's logistics team, allows for the further development of Waymo's technology and integrate it into the operations of shippers and carriers, with their network of distribution centers, ports and terminals.
Waymo, formerly part of Google X, started working on self-driving cars back in 2009, but trucks are a relatively new frontier for the company. Over this period, Waymo has improved its software by learning to drive the big rigs in much the same way a human driver would after years of driving passenger cars. Waymo says the "principles are the same, but things like braking, turning, and blind spots are different with a fully-loaded truck and trailer".
Waymo says it uses the same technology for its trucks, so it's a good guess that the company is aiming to achieve the same level of autonomy for its trucking fleet.
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Waymo has been testing autonomous cars in the wild for some time and has also revealed plans for a self-driving ride-hailing service and unveiled a self-driving minivan. The company noted that its system leverages data collected from 5 million autonomous miles driven with another 5 billion driven in simulation. Even though most of those miles were for passenger vehicles, the firm says almost a decade of experience gives it a head start in trucking. The other three companies we've mentioned-Uber, Starsky, and Embark-have all focused on freeway driving, which is generally considered the easiest type of driving to automate.
Tesla, of course, recently announced an all-electric semi truck with limited self-driving capabilities.
U.S. states set their own rules for roads, and a handful have passed laws allowing self-driving vehicles. There, the trailers are hitched onto self-driving trucks for long highway hauls, according to the San Francisco-based company.