Waymo’s autonomous trucking unit got a boost with the announcement that it would be teaming up with JB Hunt Transport Services, a 56-year-old company based in Arkansas. The two companies will work collaboratively on a pilot project to evaluate the use of Waymo’s autonomous technology to move freight.
The test will take place in Texas, with Waymo’s Class 8 autonomous truck hauling goods along Interstate 45 between facilities in Houston and Fort Worth for one of JB Hunt’s customers. The trucks will operate autonomously but will be supervised by two Waymo employees, a commercially licensed driver and a software engineer, from the cab of the vehicle. If everything goes smoothly, Waymo and JB Hunt could decide to work together on more freight hauls in the future.
While much of the public’s focus has been on Waymo’s autonomous minivans that operate in Arizona has part of a limited ride-hailing service, less attention has been paid to the company’s stated plans to eventually launch a commercial freight hauling business. Waymo has a small fleet of Peterbilt trucks that have been retrofitted with autonomous driving sensors and software, and it is currently is testing them in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
Ultimately, the goal is to deploy Level 4 trucks, 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. Level 4, or L4, vehicles can operate without a human driver behind the wheel but only within a specific geographic location, on a certain type of roadway, or under specific conditions, like good weather. Waymo has some Level 4 vehicles in operation outside of Phoenix, Arizona.
In addition to JB Hunt, Waymo is also working with Daimler on autonomous big rigs. The German automaker (and parent company of Mercedes-Benz) plans to integrate Waymo’s autonomous driving technology, widely considered to be among the best in the world, into its fleet of heavy-duty Freightliner Cascadia semi-trailer trucks. The Alphabet subsidiary also has preexisting 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 shut it down, laying off 100 employees and contract workers in the process.