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August 27, 2020 11:15 AM, EDT

Waymo Tests Autonomous Trucks in Texas

Company to Center Tech Efforts in Dallas
Waymo ViaWaymo has begun testing Peterbilt trucks equipped with self-driving technology in Texas. (Waymo)

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Waymo launched testing of autonomous trucks in Texas and announced plans to make Dallas the center of its heavy-duty vehicle technology efforts.

Alphabet Inc.’s autonomous vehicle unit said in an Aug. 26 news release that it has begun testing Peterbilt trucks equipped with self-driving technology along Interstate 10, I-20 and I-45 in Texas.

The company already has a passenger vehicle operations center in Phoenix that will be linked into its commercial vehicle testing network. It is focusing on trucking lanes that include Phoenix to Dallas, Dallas to Houston and Dallas to El Paso, Waymo told Transport Topics in a statement.

Waymo is focusing development and testing efforts along those Southwest shipping corridors because the region has favorable weather, roads and regulation, it said.

“We’re excited to explore how our tech might be able to create new transportation solutions in Texas, which has a high freight volume and is a favorable environment for deploying AVs,” Waymo said.

Texas officials welcomed Waymo. “We are fortunate to operate in a region and state where policy officials encourage innovative problem-solving, and decisions from companies like Waymo demonstrate they recognize they can both test their technology and succeed here,” said Tom Bamonte, senior program manager of automated vehicles for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. “Our location and reliable transportation system make Dallas-Fort Worth a center for freight in the United States.”

Waymo's autonomous vehicles

Waymo's autonomous vehicles. (Waymo)

Waymo, formerly Google’s self-driving car unit, is looking at two deployment models for autonomous trucking. The first would be the classic point-to-point or dock-to-dock setup ubiquitous in trucking. But that requires last- and first-mile surface street driving, which makes up one of the biggest hurdles for self-driving trucks. The company also is looking at transfer hubs, where a human driver would ferry a trailer to a highway-adjacent depot. The autonomous tractor would then pick up the trailer, hauling it to another hub near its destination. At that point, a human driver would take the load to the delivery site.

The current Texas testing will use both loaded and unloaded trucks but won’t do any commercial shipping for now, the company said. It will start with just a “few” trucks but plans to ramp up operations. Waymo does not make public the number of test vehicles in its fleet.

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The company is launching its Dallas operations out of temporary space but is searching for a permanent headquarters for the autonomous truck development center. It also plans to hire software technicians to sit in the passenger seat and look over the system while a CDL driver monitors the truck and traffic.

Waymo has partnered with Transdev, a French company with its U.S. headquarters in Lombard, Ill., to recruit licensed truck drivers for the test program. In addition to having experience with transporting and securing cargo and operating in a wide array of weather conditions, the applicants also must have some laptop computer experience and proficiency with using Google productivity applications such as Sheets and Docs.

Waymo sees commercial vehicles as a promising application for autonomous technology. But the company does not intend to get into truck manufacturing or shipping services. Instead, it wants to work with OEMs and motor carriers to get its technology into vehicles, it has said.

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