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From Waymo, a smattering of detail about its autonomous trucking technology

More sensors, and truck drivers as AV advisers

Waymo trucks feature two "perception dome" sensors to help reduce blind spots. (Photo credit: Waymo)

Autonomous vehicle company Waymo provided a glimpse of its autonomous truck technology in a blog post this week, as the Alphabet-backed startup best known for self-driving passenger vehicles steps up its delivery and freight program.

Waymo said its autonomous vehicle software powers its self-driving vehicles across modes and that to configure the system for Class 8 big rigs, engineers take into account the fact that trucks require more time and space to maneuver and can have different blind spots than cars. 

Among the differences between its passenger and delivery applications is an increased number of sensors applied to the trucks. Specifically, the trucks feature two “perception domes” versus the one on the passenger cars.

The dual pairing helps reduce blind spots caused by the trailer.

Autonomous trucking has raised concerns about the possible elimination of  truck driver jobs, and many startups in the space are taking pains to include the driver in their vision for autonomous trucking applications. Swedish trucking company Einride, for example, is pushing ahead with a model using truck drivers as remote vehicle operators.

The Waymo reveal notes that the company partners with “test drivers who are trucking industry veterans with more than 20 years of invaluable expertise.”

It quotes Jon Rainwater, a driver who helps advise the Waymo Via delivery program, which Waymo launched this year. “By working with the engineering teams and sharing all about truck behavior and the rules of the road,” Rainwater says, “I’m helping the Waymo Driver see and learn what I have. It’s my job to impart the lessons I’ve learned the hard way, so that the Waymo Driver is the safest it can be.”

Waymo joins competitors TuSimple, Embark, Ike and Kodiak Robotics in a race to get a fully autonomous semi truck on the road. Although the sector struggled in the past year, the past few months have seen a flurry of activity, as startups move AV technology closer to commercialization.

In a July press briefing, for example Waymo described a plan for bringing its Waymo Via to market. The road map included partnering with OEMs, Tier 1 suppliers and fleets, for which Waymo will provide its software and other services, including mapping and remote assistance.

Waymo said in the latest blog post that it “works closely with OEM partners to ensure we can integrate our Waymo Driver seamlessly into their vehicles and manufacture them easily.”

Those partners were not identified.

Like its competitors Waymo is testing its Class 8 trucks in various cities and environments in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. 

Each vehicle platform has completed 20 million self-driven miles on public roads, according to the blog post and over 15 billion miles in simulation. 

Related stories:

Einride to hire remote truck operators, plans US launch

TuSimple launches ‘5G network’ for autonomous trucking

Yang would anoint ‘trucking czar’ if elected president

Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to [email protected]