Waymo is Entering into a Long-term Strategic Alliance with Shipping Company J.B. Hunt Using Autonomous Class-8 Trucks
Alphabet Inc's autonomous driving unit Waymo is expanding its relationship with U.S. transportation and logistics company J.B. Hunt. The two companies have entered into a long-term, strategic alliance to commercialize autonomous driving technology for Class-8 trucks after a successful trials runs using self-driving trucks throughout 2021.
Waymo is working on autonomous freight delivery as part of its logistics business "Waymo Via", which focuses on outfitting Class-8 long-haul trucks with hardware and software for autonomous driving. Waymo had been testing its self-driving trucks on public roads in California, Georgia, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas for the past several years.
Waymo calls its autonomous driving hardware and software stack the "Waymo Driver".
As part of this agreement, J.B. Hunt, which is the third largest trucking firm in the U.S., will be Waymo Via's first launch customer for autonomous freight delivery when Waymo deploys its fully autonomous freight operations in Texas over the next few years. The plans also include additional autonomous delivery efforts together to prepare for these fully autonomous operations, according to Waymo.
"Our collaboration with J.B. Hunt in 2021 was incredibly fruitful. Establishing this strategic alliance marks an exciting moment for our relationship, and more importantly, paves the way for us both to help grow the foundations for successful deployment and to capitalize on the benefits of autonomous driving technology, " said Charlie Jatt, Head of Commercialization for Trucking, Waymo Via. We're incredibly grateful for our relationship with J.B. Hunt and their shared vision for the safety and efficiency benefits we can bring to the industry at a critical time."
Waymo will also continue to conduct joint operational and market studies to chart the commercial success of its autonomous driving technology combined with J.B. Hunt's operations.
Some analysts predict that self-driving trucks will appear on highways well before self-driving vehicles that carry passengers. From an engineering standpoint, developing an autonomous truck for highway driving is much less complex compared to passenger vehicles or robotaxis capable of navigating city streets that are packed with other vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists.
Autonomous trucks can also greatly increase safety, efficiency and costs, which is attractive to shipping companies like J.B. Hunt. The self-driving trucks can operate 24 hours a day, since they won't require taking breaks like human drivers.
"Our pilot last year with Waymo Via really helped us get a hands-on understanding of how autonomous driving technology could be implemented within our operations," said Craig Harper, Chief Sustainability Officer, J.B. Hunt. "We believe autonomous driving technology will help us create the most efficient transportation network in North America, and our collaboration with Waymo Via is a pivotal step towards fulfilling that mission."
To address the requirements for highway driving, Waymo developed a long range perception system for its Class-8 trucks that includes lidar, radar and cameras. The Waymo Driver for trucks can identify objects on the road at greater distances, which allows it to respond earlier and maneuver more smoothly if needed.
Waymo has been working on autonomous driving technology for Class-8 trucks since 2017. Its self-driving passenger vehicle development began earlier in 2009 as part of Google's self-driving car project.
Google spun off the self-driving car project as Waymo when its restructured as Alphabet Inc. in Oct 2015. Google and Waymo are both now wholly-owned subsidiaries of parent Alphabet.
With the backing of Google over the years and more than decade of development, Waymo is considered to be the U.S. industry leader in autonomous driving technology. The company's fleet of self-driving test vehicles has traveled over 25 million miles on public roads as Waymo improves and refines its Waymo Driver.
In addition to the Waymo Via logistics business, the company plans to launch a commercial robotaxi service in U.S. cities in the future that would compete with Uber and Lyft.
The app-based autonomous ride-hailing service is called "Waymo One". Waymo is aiming to launch the service soon in San Francisco, and created a waitlist for people wanting to hail a ride in one of its fully-driverless vehicles, and it's big.
Waymo's co-CEO, Tekedra Mawakana, said in early December that "tens of thousands" of San Francisco residents are on Waymo's waitlist for an opportunity to takes a ride in one of Waymo's self-driving robotaxis, which are actually electric Jaguar I-Pace SUVs outfitted with hardware and software for autonomous driving.
J.B. Hunt is not the only shipper company partnering with Waymo. In November, UPS announced it was adding Waymo's autonomous Class 8 trucks to its delivery fleet in Texas. The partnership between Waymo and UPS goes back several years.
In 2020, Waymo announced a separate partnership with Daimler Trucks to integrate its advanced Waymo Driver into Class 8 trucks from Freightliner.
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