Waymo CEO Says it Might Deploy its Self-Driving Technology in the Trucking Industry
Waymo is already planning to launch a robo-taxi service using a fleet of autonomous driving minivans and SUVs, now the CEO says the company might delay its self-driving technology in the trucking industry.
Speaking at Frankfurt Motor Show on Thursday, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said the company is exploring ways to deploy its self-driving technology in the trucking industry. As reported by Reuters, Waymo is working with industry partners to seize both a commercial opportunity while addressing the shortage of truck drivers that is expected to grow in the next decade.
Krafcik said the company's self-driving technology for passenger vehicles called "Waymo Driver" is also suited for hauling freight. The technology can also improve safety the efficiency of truck fleets while increasing utilization, as the trucks can operate autonomously 24 hours a day.
"Ride-hailing is an important application of our Driver," Krafcik told political and industry leaders in Frankfurt, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at the event's official opening.
"Our technology can also make trucking safer and stronger, and fill a pressing need for more drivers in many parts of the world.
Waymo, which spun out of Google's self-driving car project, is backed by Google parent Alphabet Inc. The company is currently focused on its Waymo One commercial robotaxi service. The pilot for the service is already underway in Chandler, Arizona where Waymo has been testing its fleet of self-driving vehicles for the past several years.
But Krafcik said Waymo has already begun testing its technology long-haul trucks and working with shipping companies. The company announced in May that it resumed testing of its Class-8 autonomous trucks on highways near Phoenix.
"We've already conducted road tests of the Waymo Driver in Class 8 trucks across the U.S., and we're working closely with the ecosystem — shippers, truck makers, and Tier One suppliers — to ensure a successful deployment."
For Waymo, entering the trucking industry is another open opportunity and the company is not alone. Ride-hailing giant Uber is looking to break into the trucking industry as well with its Uber Freight division.
Industry experts forecast a severe shortage of truck drivers in the coming years. In the U.S., the shortage of drivers is expected to more than double over the next decade as the industry struggles to replace aging drivers. Recruiting younger drivers to replace them has proved difficult. According to a study by the American Trucking Association, the shortage of drivers reached 60,800 in 2018, up 20% from 2017.
Waymo is widely viewed as the leader in autonomous driving technology. The company's fleet of autonomous vehicles has driven over 10 million miles on public roads and over 10 billion miles in computer simulation to improve the performance of its software.
However, harnessing all of this driving experience for a safe commercial deployment remains challenging and expensive. Waymo, along with dozens of other startups working on self-driving vehicles, must also find a way to recoup their research and development costs.
"Our journey has been a long one, but there is still a long road ahead. For sure, we've learned a few key things over these past 10 years," said Krafcik.
He added that it was crucial to achieve scale and robustness, and also to work with partners to win acceptance for a new definition of mobility. However, transforming mobility and gaining the public's trust of driverless vehicles is a big challenge for the entire industry, not just for Waymo.
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