Google’s sibling Waymo and major U.S. trucking firm J.B. Hunt are partnering to move freight via driverless trucks in Texas, the companies announced June 10.
Waymo started off as the Google Self-Driving Car Project in 2009, and is now the autonomous driving subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company. The startup has driven more than 20 million miles on public roads across 10 U.S. states and 20 billion miles in simulation.
The new test runs will haul freight between facilities in Houston and Fort Worth, Texas, using Waymo’s autonomous Class 8 trucks—the heaviest class—powered by its autonomous driving system, Waymo Driver. The journeys along one of the most highly utilized freight corridors in the country, Interstate 45, will be completed using Level 4 autonomous driving technology, meaning the trucks will have the ability to act without any human intervention in the vast majority of situations. (A commercially licensed driver and a software technician will be on board each truck to monitor every aspect of each vehicle’s operations throughout the runs.)
“This will be one of the first opportunities for J.B. Hunt to receive data and feedback on customer freight moved with a Class 8 tractor operating at this level of autonomy,” Craig Harper, chief sustainability officer and executive vice president at J.B. Hunt, said in a statement. “While we believe there will be a need for highly skilled, professional drivers for many years to come, it is important for J.B. Hunt as an industry leader to be involved early in the development of advanced autonomous technologies and driving systems to ensure that their implementation will improve efficiency while enhancing safety.”
Texas is popular for autonomous trucking tests. For example, autonomous vehicle startup Aurora, which acquired Uber’s self-driving car technology in December, began conducting driverless commercial trucking runs in the Dallas-Fort Worth region last year. More than a tenth of all long-haul truck drivers in America drive in Texas, and freight moved on Texas highways is expected to nearly double in the next 25 years.
The new partnership between J.B. Hunt and Waymo will help them explore how autonomous driving technology can be integrated across fleets and enhance safety and efficiency. The two have already worked closely on operational and market studies that explored topics such as best practices for regular maintenance, what future facility layouts will look like and which lanes are best suited for autonomous driving technology. The new trial run will help the companies define how they can continue working together long-term.
“We’re thrilled to collaborate with J.B. Hunt as we advance and commercialize the Waymo Driver,” Charlie Jatt, Waymo’s head of commercialization for trucking, said in a statement. “Our teams share an innovative and safety-first mindset as well as a deep appreciation for the potential benefits of autonomous driving technology in trucking. It’s companies and relationships like these that will make this technology a commercial reality in the coming years.”