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Aurora signs up truckload carrier Covenant to work on autonomous technology 

Collaboration follows similar deals this year with Werner, U.S. Xpress

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Aurora Innovation Inc. has signed up its third truckload carrier this year to partner on possible deployment of its autonomous vehicle technology.

In the latest transaction, Aurora (NASDAQ: AUR) said it had agreed with Covenant Logistics (NASDAQ: CVLG) on what it described as a “collaboration to explore ways to optimize Covenant’s long-haul operations with Aurora’s autonomous trucking product.”

The deal with Covenant comes on the heels of similar announcements of collaborations with Werner Enterprises (NASDAQ: WERN) in April and U.S. Xpress (NYSE: USX) in February.  Those came after cooperative agreements were signed last year with FedEx and Uber Freight. 

A spokesperson for Aurora said this is Covenant’s first entry into the autonomous trucking field.

She said the work that will be undertaken with Covenant is most similar to what Aurora is doing with U.S. Xpress.

“We’ll be focused on identifying the optimal deployment strategies for autonomous technology in Covenant’s commercial operations,” she said in an email to FreightWaves. “This includes identifying the busiest hauls where the Aurora Driver can make the biggest difference, exploring how to best integrate Aurora Beacon, our mission control center, and teaming up to educate the industry about the benefits of autonomous technology.”

But there is a significant difference with U.S. Xpress. That company had already made a large foray into the autonomous vehicle space through its joint activities with TuSimple. U.S. Xpress is an investor in TuSimple (NASDAQ: TSP), it serves as an adviser, and it is probable that it will be a customer for the Class 8 tractors that TuSimple is developing with Navistar (NYSE: NAV).

Aurora’s deals with Werner, as well as FedEx (NYSE: FDX) and Uber Freight (NYSE: UBER), are involved in “commercial pilots where we are autonomously hauling freight today,” she said.

Aurora has partnerships to install its autonomous vehicle technology in trucks manufactured by Paccar (NYSE: PCR) and Volvo (OTC; VOLVY).  

In its prepared statement announcing the collaboration, Aurora said its goals for the tie-up with Covenant are: “identifying the lanes where the Aurora Driver can make the biggest impact while improving driver quality of life; optimizing fuel efficiency and maximizing the uptime of Covenant’s fleet with Aurora Horizon, built for 24/7/365 operation; [and] collaborating on how to effectively educate the transportation and logistics industry on the benefits of autonomous technology, especially on long-haul lanes.”

In the company’s statement, Joey Hogan, president of Covenant, said, “We believe this technology has the potential to optimize operations and reduce fuel consumption while also helping our drivers, both in safety and quality of life.”

Disclosure: FreightWaves founder and CEO Craig Fuller retains ownership of U.S. Xpress shares through his family trust.

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.