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Waymo Launching Self-Driving Trucks in Atlanta

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【Summary】Waymo announced that its own self-driving trucks will be put to work in the Atlanta metro area, in a pilot program hauling cargo bound for Google’s data centers.

Eric Walz    Mar 09, 2018 11:01 AM PT
Waymo Launching Self-Driving Trucks in Atlanta
author: Eric Walz   

With 5 million miles of real world testing under its belt and billions more in simulation, Waymo has made great strides in improving its autonomous driving capability. Now, Waymo is applying the knowledge it has accumulated to launch self-driving trucks. The company announced that its own self-driving trucks will be put to work in the Atlanta metro area, in a pilot program hauling cargo bound for Google's data centers.

Over the past year, Waymo has been quietly conducting road tests of Waymo's self-driving trucks in California and Arizona. Over this period, Waymo has improved its software by learning to drive the big rigs in much the same way a human driver would after years of driving passenger cars. The principles are the same, but things like braking, turning, and blind spots are different with a fully-loaded truck and trailer.

The location is ideal for Waymo. Atlanta is one of the biggest logistics hubs in the country, making it a natural home for Google's logistical operations and the perfect environment for our next phase of testing Waymo's self-driving trucks, the company wrote in a blog post.

This pilot, in partnership with Google's logistics team, allows for the further development of Waymo's technology and integrate it into the operations of shippers and carriers, with their network of distribution centers, ports and terminals.

Although Waymo is testing self-driving technology on the trucks, there will be a driver behind the wheel. A highly-trained safety operator will be in the cab to monitor systems and take control if needed.

In a blog post, Waymo wrote "We've been able to make rapid progress because our driver — Waymo's self-driving technology — is not only experienced, but adaptable. Our self-driving trucks use the same suite of custom-built sensors that power our self-driving minivan. They benefit from the same advanced self-driving software that has enabled our cars to go fully driverless in Arizona. And our engineers and AI experts are leveraging the same five million miles we've already self-driven on public roads, plus the five billion miles we've driven in simulation. In short, our near-decade of experience with passenger vehicles has given us a head start in trucking."

Waymo joins Uber and Tesla in the race to develop autonomous trucks and disrupt the traditional trucking industry. Uber announced this week that its own self-driving trucks starting hauling freight across Arizona in a test program. The program, called Uber Freight, addresses shipping logistics with software, connecting shippers to available truck drivers via an app— much like Uber's ride-hailing app works.

While the automotive industry is focused on self-driving cars, operating self-driving cars on city streets seems much more complicated than sending a truck down the highway without a driver. So we may see self-driving trucks on the roads before cars without drivers.

Trucking is a vital part of the American economy. According to the American Trucking Associations, trucking revenues were $676.2 billion in 2016, while trucks moved more than 10.4 billion tons of freight.

Waymo believes self-driving technology has the potential to make this sector safer and more efficient. The company is reimagining many different types of transportation — from ride-hailing to logistics.

Waymo's self-driving trucks will start rolling out next week.

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