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February 16, 2022 8:00 AM, EST

Waymo to Haul Freight for C.H. Robinson in Texas Tests

Partnership Aims to Accelerate Rollout of Autonomous Trucking
A Waymo Via autonomous truckWaymo Via will use its test fleet of self-driving Class 8 tractors to haul freight between Dallas and Houston for C.H. Robinson customers. (Waymo)

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Logistics giant C.H. Robinson is collaborating with Waymo to introduce autonomous trucks into its freight network, starting with multiple pilots in Texas.

Through this strategic partnership, Waymo’s autonomous trucking division, Waymo Via, will use its test fleet of self-driving Class 8 tractors to haul freight between Dallas and Houston for C.H. Robinson customers, the companies announced Feb. 16.

Beyond those initial test runs, C.H. Robinson and Waymo plan to work together on the broader goal of shaping and accelerating the development of autonomous driving technology in the freight transportation industry.

“We see a great opportunity both in the near term and the long term for [autonomous vehicle] technology to make supply chains more efficient and sustainable, and ultimately we think it’s going to transform the way supply chains operate,” said Chris O’Brien, C.H. Robinson’s chief commercial officer.

C.H. Robinson, North America’s largest freight broker, has a network of nearly 200,000 shippers and carriers and data on more than 3 million shipping lanes.

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That industry reach and knowledge will help Waymo bring its autonomous driving technology to market in the freight transportation sector, said Charlie Jatt, Waymo’s head of commercialization for trucking.

“Together we can combine C.H. Robinson’s logistics expertise and scale of data with Waymo Via’s technology expertise to help tailor this new product to the specific needs of the logistics industry and apply it where it promises the most benefit,” Jatt said. “That’s a powerful combination.”

The companies said they plan to launch their first pilot in the coming months, but did not provide a more specific time frame. Although Waymo is working to pave the way for fully autonomous operation, its self-driving trucks continue to have a safety driver in the cab as a backup at this stage of development.

Looking ahead, C.H. Robinson’s O’Brien said autonomous driving technology could help the transportation industry address major challenges such as the longstanding shortage of professional truck drivers and constrained freight-hauling capacity — issues that have become even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve had a driver shortage problem in North America for decades,” he said. “We don’t see too many things on the horizon that can impact it like this.”

We see a great opportunity both in the near term and the long term for [autonomous vehicle] technology to make supply chains more efficient and sustainable.

Chris O'Brien, Chief Commercial Officer, C.H. Robinson

Chris O'Brien

Autonomous trucks operating in certain lanes, especially in longhaul applications, could provide relief for the industry’s labor shortage while also accelerating the growth of shorthaul jobs that tend to be more attractive for drivers because they provide more home time, he added.

O’Brien said C.H. Robinson’s collaboration with Waymo will help bring the voice of small and medium-size carriers into the conversation about how autonomous trucking technology will be deployed.

“We think we are uniquely positioned to represent those small and medium-size carriers in a more autonomous world,” he said, adding that fleets with fewer than 400 tractors represent about 83% of the capacity on the road today.

O’Brien also cited a strong appetite for this technology among C.H. Robinson’s shipper customers.

“Our customer interest in the pilots has been enormous,” he said.

C.H. Robinson, based in Eden Prairie, Minn., ranks No. 1 on the Transport Topics Top 50 list of the largest third-party logistics providers in North America.

Driver as a Service illustration

Although Waymo currently is operating its own test fleet, the company’s longer-term business plan is to make its autonomous driving technology available to motor carriers through a “driver-as-a-service” model. Fleets would purchase trucks equipped with the technology while Waymo Via provides deployment support and ongoing services for its hardware and software components.

In addition to its work with C.H. Robinson, Waymo also has entered into several other high-profile partnerships in the trucking industry.

The technology company has collaborated with Daimler Truck North America to develop an autonomous Freightliner Cascadia model and also is working closely with intermodal service provider and truckload carrier J.B. Hunt Transport Services.

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