Why Waymo’s Self-Driving Trucks Have a ‘Head Start’ in Autonomy Race


This week, the autonomous truck went from curious project to visible reality. Just three days after Uber announced it’s been moving freight across Arizona, Waymo announced on Friday it’s partnering with Google’s logistics team to use autonomous trucks to send cargo to Google data centers starting next week.

“We’ve been able to make rapid progress because our driver — Waymo’s self-driving technology — is not only experienced, but adaptable,” the team said in a statement on Friday. “Our self-driving trucks use the same suite of custom-built sensors that power our self-driving minivan.”

The team — which went from being Google’s internal autonomous car project to a subsidiary of parent company Alphabet in 2016 — has racked up an impressive number of miles since its founding in 2009. It’s accumulated five million miles in real-world driving, as well as a further five billion miles in virtual tests. It’s used this data to power its autonomous minivan service in Arizona.

“In short, our near-decade of experience with passenger vehicles has given us a head start in trucking,” the team said.

It hasn’t been easy to get there, though. The team had to teach the software how to drive a truck, in the same way an experienced human driver would learn after years. For the past year, Waymo has been working in California and Arizona to teach the trucks how to drive.

Waymo’s plan to bring the technology to Georgia received a warm reception from the governor.

“As we look to the future of innovation and efficiency, self-driving vehicles are at the forefront of enhancing roadway safety and making the transportation of American goods more feasible,” Nathan Deal, governor of the state, said in a statement. “We are excited to partner with Waymo, the leader in self-driving technology, in testing self-driving trucks here in the No. 1 state for business.”

Waymo's autonomous trucks on the road.


For now, neither Uber nor Waymo’s trucks are acting entirely autonomously. They both have highly-skilled drivers in the front seat ready to take over when needed. However, it’s a critical step to developing the technology as the software learns the complicated maneuvers that come with driving a truck.

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