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January 19, 2021 2:45 PM, EST

Paccar, Aurora to Partner on Development of Autonomous Trucks

Aurora Peterbilt truck and Kenworth T680Left: Aurora has been testing autonomous Peterbilt trucks in Texas. (Aurora) Right: A Kenworth T680 at a past industry show. Paccar is working with Aurora to build self-driving models of the T680. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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Paccar Inc. reached a deal with a California technology startup to develop and sell autonomous versions of two of its most popular Class 8 truck models.

The Bellevue, Wash., company will work with Aurora Innovation Inc. of Palo Alto to build self-driving models of Peterbilt 579 and Kenworth T680 trucks.

The agreement calls for the development of “an expansive commercialization plan for the deployment of these trucks at scale over the next few years,” Sterling Anderson, Aurora’s chief product officer and a co-founder, wrote in a company blog post.

Paccar, which owns the Peterbilt, Kenworth and DAF truck brands, will supply the vehicle. Aurora will provide the Driver, or self-driving technology, including hardware, software and operational services, the companies said in a Jan. 19 news release.

Preston Feight

Feight

“Paccar looks forward to partnering with Aurora because of their industry-leading autonomous driving technology and impressive team,” Paccar CEO Preston Feight said.

The companies will work together on component sourcing and vehicle technology, and integrate the Aurora Driver into the Peterbilt and Kenworth model. Testing for the truck will take place at the Paccar Technical Center in Mount Vernon, Wash., and on public roads. Paccar will build the trucks at its factories.

Chris Urmson, CEO of Aurora

Urmson

“Working together, we’ve been impressed with Paccar’s product engineering, manufacturing capabilities, and commitment to enhancing its customers’ operational safety and efficiency,” said Chris Urmson, who led the Google self-driving car team and is Aurora’s CEO and a co-founder. “This partnership brings us one step closer to unlocking the autonomous freight market and delivering goods to those who need them.”

The agreement is one of multiple deals reached over the past year between self-driving technology companies and truck manufacturers. Daimler Trucks and Waymo reached an agreement in October to use the Waymo Driver to develop an autonomous Freightliner Cascadia model. Waymo is the former Google Self-Driving Car Project and a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc.

In July, Navistar International Corp. invested in self-driving technology company TuSimple and launched a strategic partnership to co-develop self-driving trucks targeted for production by 2024. TuSimple has a similar deal with Traton Group, Volkswagen AG’s heavy-truck unit, to develop autonomous trucks for the European market. Traton also is acquiring Navistar.

Michael Ramsey, senior research director at Gartner Inc

Ramsey

The ventures demonstrate that autonomous trucking is getting closer to commercialization, said Mike Ramsey, automotive and smart mobility analyst at Gartner Inc. But hurdles remain, and it won’t be ubiquitous, he said. The first uses will be on point-to-point mapped routes that limit interaction with complex traffic situations.

“These companies have spent a lot of time looking at routes where it will be the easiest and has the highest technological value,” Ramsey said.

Point-to-point routes, where an autonomous truck has easy access on and off the highway at pre-determined hubs, holds the potential to deliver goods faster and at a lower cost, he said.

There are legal issues still to be solved. Motor carriers and shippers won’t start to use autonomous trucks until they are sure it is allowed under motor vehicle regulations at the state and federal levels, Ramsey said. They don’t want to risk liability.

RoadSigns

How can we control an unruly trucking tech stack and streamline fleet management practices? Host Seth Clevenger speaks with Ray Greer, CEO of Omnitracs, which acquired SmartDrive last year. Hear a snippet, above, and get the full program by going to RoadSigns.TTNews.com.

“There are many challenges, but when it comes down to it, we have passed the stage where we ask if it is technologically possible and moved into a stage where we are asking if it makes sense,” Ramsey said.

RELATED: Analysts: Trucking Ripe With Opportunities for Autonomous Technology

In an interview with Transport Topics last year, Urmson said he viewed trucking as an early use for autonomous driving technology. Aurora already is testing autonomous trucks in Texas.

While its Driver also is being tested for use in light vehicles, Aurora said its first commercial product would be in trucking.

“[That’s] where the market is largest today, the unit economics are best, and the level of service requirements is most accommodating,” the company said when it launched the tests in Texas last year.

The companies said they look to extend the collaboration to other models, including DAF, which is Paccar’s European brand.

“We’ve been laying the groundwork for this product and this partnership for some time,” Anderson said.

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