Aurora Innovation will start testing autonomous Class 8 trucks from Peterbilt Motors and Chrysler Pacifica minivans in Texas in the next few weeks.
Texas testing will focus on commercial routes used by major freight haulers, the self-driving startup said Monday.
More than 10% of long-haul truck drivers in America drive in Texas. And freight moved there could nearly double in the next 25 years, Aurora said.
Aurora also tests its vehicles in the San Francisco Bay area and Pittsburgh. It has raised $690 million in funding. Investors include Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp.
Investing for future payback
“Whether a vehicle is moving people or goods, an investment in foundational elements like world-class perception, localization, and motion planning can’t be sidestepped,” Aurora said in a blog post on Medium. The up-front investment in time and money is large, but the potential payback is huge.
Trucks moved nearly $792 billion in freight in 2019, according to the American Trucking Associations.
Aurora’s early focus on complex surface street driving helped it prepare for over-the-road trucking. Most see freight hauling as leading a driving transformation. Navistar International Corp. is targeting 2024 to sell a driverless truck.
The Lone Star State is becoming a locus for autonomous vehicle testing. Ford Motor Co. and self-driving startups Argo, TuSimple, and Alphabet’s Waymo all conduct testing there.
TuSimple is launching a Southwest U.S.-based logistics network for its highly automated trucks. Its partners include United Parcel Service, Penske and U.S. Xpress.
Fastest path to biggest impact
“We have always said we’d pick a path to market that allows us to make the biggest impact the fastest,” the blog post said. “While the [Aurora] Driver will ultimately move both people and goods, our first commercial product will be in trucking — where the market is largest today.”
Texas has more miles of public roads than any state.
“Texas understands that self-driving technology will have a critical safety impact for those who drive on its roads,” Aurora said. State regulations and pro-business policies make it ideal for working toward safer roads.
“As our development progresses, we’ll selectively pull loads with our partners as we better learn the operational nuances of commercial goods delivery,” the company said.