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July 20, 2020 4:15 PM, EDT

Class 8 Trucks to Be Part of Aurora’s Autonomous Testing in Texas

Aurora PeterbiltAurora via YouTube

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Autonomous vehicle technology developer Aurora plans to launch testing of self-driving Peterbilt Class 8 trucks and smaller vehicles that can be used for package delivery in the Dallas-Fort Worth area this year.

The tests, which will include Chrysler Pacifica minivans, are designed to test autonomous vehicles on commercial routes for hauling goods over major freight corridors, and also for last-mile delivery.

Although Aurora has worked on integrating its driving system into trucks for some time, this will be the first major test of the system on open roads, the company told Transport Topics. It did not say how many vehicles will be used for the tests.

“While the [system] will ultimately move both people and goods, our first commercial product will be in trucking — where the market is largest today, the unit economics are best, and the level of service requirements is most accommodating,” the company said in a blog post.

Commercial fleets are the area where the technology has the best business case, Chris Urmson, who led the Google self-driving car team and is now CEO of Aurora, told Transport Topics earlier this year.

Aurora’s strategy is to pick a path to market that allows it “to make the biggest impact the fastest,” the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company said.

Autonomous vehicle developers like to test in Texas and other southwestern states because of good roads, sunny weather conditions and a favorable regulatory environment.

TuSimple, another self-driving truck developer, announced in early July that it has partnered with UPS, U.S. Xpress and others to launch a logistics network for its highly automated trucks that also will start in the Southwest.

Aurora also plans to test in Texas because it is full of major logistics and transportation hubs. The company said about 10% of longhaul truckers drive through the state and that freight moved on the state’s highways is forecast to nearly double in the next 25 years.

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Connectivity is changing trucking today and into the future, including how it could enable electric and self-driving trucks. Host Seth Clevenger talks with two experts from Penske Transportation Solutions, Bill Combs and Samantha Thompson. Hear a snippet, above, and get the full program by going to RoadSigns.TTNews.com

The tests will concentrate on commercial routes that are heavily utilized by major freight carriers, mainly in the Southern Dallas area.

“As our development progresses, we’ll selectively pull loads with our partners as we better learn the operational nuances of commercial goods delivery,” the company said.

The Aurora tests also will help the company evaluate its new FirstLight Lidar sensor on Aurora’s next-generation test vehicles. The lidar system enables the Aurora Driver to see farther and better to improve the vehicle’s understanding of surrounding traffic and potential hazards.

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