The trucks will always have a safety driver on board and ready to take over at any moment. The trucks will be loaded up with weights to mimic a commercial load. The tests will take place in Texas and New Mexico because of their expansive and high-quality highway systems, good weather, and large trucking industry.
Waymo has not said how long the testing phase will last, or when its trucks will be operating fully autonomously. According to Waymo, fully driverless trucks will be on the road “… within the coming years”, but that it will happen gradually with a “… safe and responsible approach.” CEO John Krafcik further claims that Waymo is not a self-driving car company. Instead, the aim is to “build the world’s most experienced driver”.  In practice, this “experienced driver” will be a package of hardware and software.
Industry insiders envision self-driving tech acting more as a copilot than a replacement for human drivers; for example, when they are about to drive a highway for a long stretch, drivers could switch into autonomous mode and take a nap, look at their phones, etc. Besides giving them the rest they need, they’d also save time and get to their destinations faster.
The transition to autonomous trucks will be gradual; so though we don’t know exactly when, we can be fairly certain that at some point in the not-too-distant future, driverless trucks will be transporting a lot of goods—and not just in Texas.
This kind of news pops up regularly; that driverless or fully autonomous vehicles are just around the corner and that the company (Waymo, Tesla, Uber, Volvo Cars and, other OEMs, plus numerous start-up companies) just need to do some testing. There are several reasons why these claims are occurring, e.g. being first to the market is generally an advantage, it is part of building a brand as a forward-thinking hi-tech company and the need to attract venture capital from investors. In reality, the technology (software and hardware) for autonomous vehicles is far from being mature enough to let vehicles drive on public roads. However, some states in the US allow tests on public roads that would not be granted in Europe. For example, Einride’s permission from Trafikverket to drive their driverless truck on a public road was restricted to a specific route of 100 m and max speed 5 km/h.
The example mentioned in the article above that the driver could take a nap, look at their phones, etc. with self-driving trucks also reveals the lack of understanding of Human - Automation interaction matters (which have been extensively studied) and is key to accomplish the gradual realization of autonomous vehicles. It seems as we (still) have some work to do to present this knowledge.
Written by Mikael Söderman, RISE.