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Are We at the Beginning of an Era of Commercial Robo-Trucks?

Autonomous driving technology companies are ramping up their testing of self-driving trucks on public roads in the U.S. [1].

Waymo, TuSimple and Embark – three U.S. companies that are engaging seriously with the commercialization of self-driving trucks. Aligned with many of the ongoing robo-taxi tests in the U.S. today, Arizona has become a hotbed for robo-trucks due to its favourable weather conditions and amenable state regulations. It’s also one of the few U.S. states where operators of self-driving fleets are allowed to generate revenue from ride and delivery services [2].

Starting in Phoenix, Waymo will put self-driving trucks on the city’s freeways and add additional routes over time. After finishing their trucking pilot program in Atlanta [3], Waymo will now move into a more advanced stage where they test both empty trucks and with freight. However, there is yet no intention to make a commercial business.

TuSimple began a self-driving truck pilot program in May and expects to have more than 50 vehicles on the road by the end of June. They have teamed up with USPS (United States Postal Service) to haul trailers between distribution centres in Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas; a route of more than 1 000 miles (around 1600 kilometres).

Embark was spotted hauling cargo for Amazon autonomously earlier this year along the Interstate 10 [4], a route that runs from Los Angeles through Phoenix and further on to Florida. That route is viewed as a linchpin by many experts in the industry due to few pedestrians and all vehicles generally moving in one direction.

These robo-trucks currently have safety drivers and engineers onboard who can take over if needed and thus require more testing as well as tech and regulation/policy developments to become fully autonomous commercial products.

 

Personal comments

States like Arizona, with regulations that are favourable to self-driving vehicle tests, are obviously crucial to build common understanding and viable businesses which can form the path forward. At least in this industry, where many companies suffer from a shortage of truck drivers, autonomy could make an immediate commercial case if the vehicles were proven capable and the regulatory systems were prepared to include them.

 

Written by Hampus Alfredsson, RISE Viktoria.

 

Sources

1. 2019-05-30. Self-driving trucks take center stage.

2. 2019-05-29. Waymo Ramps Up Robo-Rig Tests, Shifting Its Self-Driving Truck Fleet To Arizona.

3. 2018-03-09. Waymo’s self-driving trucks will start delivering freight in Atlanta.

4. 2019-01-30. Amazon is hauling cargo in self-driving trucks developed by Embark