Waymo’s autonomous trucking unit was given a boost with the announcement that it would partner with JB Hunt Transport Services, a 56-year-old company based in Arkansas. The two companies will collaborate on a pilot project to evaluate the use of Waymo’s autonomous technology for moving freight.
The test will take place in Texas, using Waymo’s Class 8 autonomous truck carrying goods along Interstate 45 between facilities in Houston and Fort Worth for one of JB Hunt’s customers. The trucks drive autonomously, but are accompanied from the cab of the vehicle by two Waymo employees, a commercially licensed driver and a software engineer. If all goes smoothly, Waymo and JB Hunt may decide to work together on more freight forwarding in the future.
While much public attention has been focused on Waymo’s autonomous minivans that operate in Arizona and are part of a limited ride service, less attention has been paid to the company’s announced plans to eventually start a commercial trucking business. Waymo has a small fleet of Peterbilt trucks that have been retrofitted with sensors and autonomous driving software and is currently testing them in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Ultimately, the goal of deploying Level 4 trucks is a reference to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) taxonomy for autonomous vehicles, commonly referred to as the SAE Levels, which have become the global standard for defining self-driving vehicles. . Level 4 or L4 vehicles can drive without a human driver behind the wheel, but only within a specific geographic location, on a certain type of road, or under specific conditions, such as good weather. Waymo operates some level 4 vehicles outside of Phoenix, Arizona.
In addition to JB Hunt, Waymo is also working with Daimler on autonomous large platforms. The German automaker (and parent company of Mercedes-Benz) plans to integrate Waymo’s autonomous driving technology, widely regarded as some of the best in the world, into its fleet of Freightliner Cascadia heavy-trailer trucks. The Alphabet subsidiary also has pre-existing agreements with Renault-Nissan, Fiat Chrysler, Jaguar Land Rover and Volvo.
Waymo is no stranger to Texas. The company’s groundbreaking demonstration of its prototype Firefly vehicle with no steering wheel or pedals took place in the city of Austin in October 2015. The company kept an office in the city until November 2019, when it abruptly closed it, laying off 100 employees and contract workers.