Waymo, the self-driving car company belonging to Google, announced this past Friday that their autonomous trucks have started hauling actual cargo in Atlanta, Georgia. The self-driving trucks will be delivering its cargo to and from Google’s data centers, supporting local Google data. There will be a safety driver present in the vehicle in case something goes wrong.
Waymo has been conducting road tests of the self-driving trucks in California and Arizona over the last year or so. The company has moved beyond testing tracks and is now hitting the actual road.
Along with the self-driving trucks, Waymo announced back in January that testing of their autonomous taxi service was going to expand to Atlanta as well.
There is plenty of competition in the self-driving truck industry as a number of other companies made similar testing announcement. Uber announced days prior that they would begin testing their self-driving trucks on the highways of Arizona. Their trucks will be hauling freight as well.
Starsky Robotics, a startup based out of California, announced this past week that they’ll begin testing the technology for their remotely driven trucks. There is one company ahead of the game. A startup named Embark has been hauling cargo with their self-driving trucks since last fall. Their testing includes a driver behind the wheel for safety precautions.
There is not much known about Waymo’s technology for their self-driving trucks as they haven’t provided much detail. The technology could be more advanced than that of its competitors. While the other three companies have been focusing on freeway driving, Waymo is testing in more local areas. Freeway driving is considered the easiest driving to automate.
Uber has a human driver take the trucks through city streets at the beginning of the trip and at the end, which is known as their “transfer hub” model. In between those trips, the self-driving trucks take a freeway only route. Starsky has a similar model to Uber’s “transfer hub” model.
Much like the other companies, Waymo will include a safety driver in their vehicles. Their ambition, however, is to develop “level 4” vehicles. Level 4 vehicles have the ability to handle more difficult and complex traffic on local, city streets. Waymo is very confident in its technology as it took the safety driver out of their driver-less minivans last November.
The same technology is used in Waymo’s trucks. The company is likely aiming for the same amount of autonomy for their driver-less trucks. The company wouldn’t need a transfer hub, remote driver or safety driver if they reach this goal.
“Things like braking, turning, and blind spots are different with a fully-loaded truck and trailer,” said Waymo. There is still a lot of work ahead for Waymo it seems they have a head start in the game.