Waymo, formerly the Google self-driving car project, is this week launching a pilot in Atlanta, where self-driving trucks will begin carrying freight on public roads to and from Google’s data centres.
The company is probably best known for its work creating self-driving cars, but in the latest blog, Waymo says that its mission has always been “to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around”.
It says: “Trucking is a vital part of the American economy, and we believe self-driving technology has the potential to make this sector safer and even stronger.”
Waymo has been working on autonomous driving technology since 2009 and its autonomous vehicles now drive more than 25,000 autonomous miles each week; it claims largely on complex city streets. The company has now tallied more than 5 million autonomous miles in total and billions of simulated miles.
While the new trucks will be entirely self-driving, during the pilot in the United States, experienced drivers will still be in the cab to take control if needed. Over the last year the Google company has been conducting road tests in California and Arizona in preparation.
According to Waymo, its software has been learning to drive heavy goods vehicles in the same way that an experienced car driving human might learn to drive a truck. It uses the same sensors but because braking, turning and blind spots are so different in a fully laden larger vehicle, its self-driving technology has had to adapt and learn new techniques.
The pilot is particularly interesting because the new technology will be integrated into Google’s existing supply chain, potentially uncovering unknown practical issues associated with running an autonomous truck fleet in a live operational environment. It will be delivering to a network of factories, distribution centres, ports and terminals.
The race for autonomous trucking supremacy is on. Just days earlier, rival Uber Freight announced that it is now operating its fleet of self-driving trucks as part of its freight-hauling app service. Similarly a human “safety” driver still sits behind the wheel in this case too – but it says fully autonomous vehicles are being operated using a transfer hub system, with human operated vehicles delivering the final mile.
Undoubtedly the conditions in Europe – including the UK – are very different to those experienced in the wide open plains in Arizona and even urban Atlanta, but progress is being made on this side of the Atlantic too.
In August 2017 the Department for Transport (DfT) and Highways England commissioned TRL to lead the first real-world operational trial of platooning vehicles on UK roads. The £8.1m trial will see TRL lead a consortium of partners including DAF Trucks, Ricardo and DHL.
You can get an update on our home-grown trials at the Microlise Transport Conference on 16th May at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry where Rob Wallis, Chief Executive of TRL will be speaking in the main agenda.