Waymo and freight giant JB Hunt form robot truck alliance

Waymo, the self-driving unit of Alphabet Inc., is expanding its work with JB Hunt and that the US freight giant will be the first commercial customer for its robotic truck services.

Lowell, Arkansas-based JB Hunt, which started a pilot program with Waymo Via, the tech company’s logistics operation, last year hauled goods in trials on the I-Highway 45 in Texas. It is now expected to be Waymo Via’s first freight partner “as we roll out fully autonomous operations in Texas in the coming years,” Waymo said in a blog post. Prior to this, companies will expand their trials using Waymo’s large automated platforms (with human safety drivers as backups).

This strategic alliance “paves the way for us to both help build the foundation for successful deployment and to capitalize on the benefits of self-driving technology,” said Charlie Jatt, Chief Marketing Officer, Waymo for Trucking. .

The Alphabet unit already generates a small amount of revenue from its on-demand robotaxi service in suburban Phoenix, with plans to expand that offering in the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet self-driving trucks and delivery services are fast becoming a central application of technology developed over more than a decade, starting with the Google Self-Driving Car Project. Growing demand for freight services, a shortage of long-haul truck drivers, and a somewhat simpler operating environment — highways rather than city streets — are intensifying competition between Waymo and its self-driving tech rivals, including TuSimple, Embark, Aurora, and Kodiak, all targeting the $800 billion U.S. trucking market.

JB Hunt said the multi-year program with Waymo, starting in Texas, will help it learn how to integrate self-driving trucks into its US logistics operations. The companies did not share financial details of the partnership.

“Our pilot project last year with Waymo Via really helped us understand how self-driving technology could be implemented in our operations,” said Craig Harper, director of sustainability at JB Hunt. “We believe self-driving technology will help us create the most efficient transportation network in North America.”

Waymo’s fleet of around 50 AI-enabled trucks, equipped with sensors including laser lidar, radar and cameras and a high-powered computer system, are operating with human backup drivers behind the wheel for now. Last month, TuSimple conducted an “out of service” test drive of one of its trucks in Arizona, without a human driver in the cab.

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