Waymo announced a new partnership with CH Robinson, a Fortune 500 company and global logistics provider, to test its autonomous trucks in Texas. It’s the latest deal that highlights the Alphabet company’s growing autonomous truck venture, Waymo Via.
As part of the new collaboration, Waymo and CH Robinson will oversee a pilot in which Waymo’s test fleet of autonomous trucks will make deliveries, traveling a 240-mile route between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. The company is also testing deliveries for UPS along the same route.
Waymo divides its autonomous initiatives into two divisions: Waymo One, its consumer ride-hailing service, and Waymo Via, which is focused on goods delivery in both trucking and local delivery formats.
Waymo has made a flurry of deals in recent months aimed at growing its nascent trucking business. The Google spinoff has said it has no plans to own or operate its own fleet of trucks and instead will work with truck manufacturers, carriers, and brokers to integrate its technology into the business of hauling freight.
That’s where CH Robinson comes in. The Minnesota-based company, which has a market cap of $11.68 billion, is a freight brokerage with access to 200,000 shippers that make 20 million deliveries a year.
“Together we can combine CH Robinson’s logistics expertise and scale of data with Waymo Via’s technology expertise to help tailor this new product to the specific needs of the logistics industry and apply it where it promises the most benefit,” said Charlie Jatt, head of commercialization of trucking for Waymo Via.
Currently, Waymo is testing the fifth generation of its “Driver,” which is the term it uses to describe its combination of hardware, sensors, and AI software, on its own test fleet of Class 8 trucks. The company is also working with JB Hunt Transport Services to haul freight along several interstates in Texas and is collaborating with Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, on a fully autonomous Level 4 system for trucks.
While much of the public’s focus has been on Waymo’s autonomous minivans that operate in Arizona as part of a ride-hailing service, less attention has been paid to the company’s stated plans to eventually launch a commercial freight hauling business. The trucks operate autonomously during tests and commercial deliveries but include two Waymo employees — a commercially licensed driver and a software engineer — who sit in the cab and monitor the driving.
Jatt said the ultimate goal is to make money based on a “driver as a service” business model. It works like this: Waymo works with automakers, like Daimler Truck, to build autonomous trucks that then get sold to carriers, like JB Hunt. Waymo Via will then charge carriers for providing “deployment support and ongoing services for our hardware and software components.” The company will also help deploy these vehicles on a global scale.
The trucking industry is dealing with a global shortage of drivers, as well as ongoing disruptions as a result of the chip shortage and supply chain mishaps. Chris O’Brien, chief commercial officer at CH Robinson, said the brokerage is hoping that Waymo’s technology can provide relief on multiple levels to help during this particularly fraught moment for the logistics industry.
“Autonomy is coming to this industry and to carriers either way,” O’Brien said. “So it was important for us to jump in to represent those small and medium sized carriers, especially because they represent the majority of that capacity on the road.”