Waymo’s John Verdon talks about the future of self-driving technology with FreightWaves CEO Craig Fuller during FreightWaves LIVE @HOME
Fully autonomous vehicles may seem like an idea only the Jetsons could fathom, but it’s a concept that is well within reach of the trucking industry.
Waymo LLC has been working on this technology for more than a decade, starting with the Google self-driving car. Since then it has expanded to two projects, Waymo One and Waymo Via, with the goal of bringing driverless technology to the freight world.
John Verdon, trucking lead and business developer for Waymo, gave FreightWaves CEO Craig Fuller a snapshot of the company’s goals during an episode of Fuller Speed Ahead on Friday during FreightWaves LIVE @HOME.
Verdon said the company’s focus is “on developing the Waymo driver, which is our autonomous technology, and then closely working with fleets, OEMs and tier-one suppliers to apply that driver into vehicles and fleets, ensuring safe, successful and incremental deployment of the technology.”
Verdon said the key benefits to autonomous vehicle technology are improved safety and efficiency.
Waymo uses two distinct methods to showcase its product: carrying sample loads for preestablished fleets and performing fleet studies to understand the needs of their potential clients.
“The great part about this method is that it’s a way to get ahead of some of the questions
that you just can’t test at today’s scale of pilot,” Verdon said, adding that a “deep dive” exploration of a company’s specific needs can eliminate some of the skepticism around moving freight without a human driver.
Of course, the time line for fully autonomous vehicles is lengthy. The current stage of Waymo’s technology is two people in a software-fitted truck traveling as passengers but available to take control of the vehicle should something happen.
Fuller compares it to flying in an airplane that’s on autopilot.
Verdon believes the time line for going fully auto is several years down the road. The current focus is continued testing to ensure the highest level of safety; Waymo performs this testing across the Southwest freight corridor where opportunities for trouble are fewer.
When deciding which companies will be a good fit, Verdon said Waymo is “thinking through which companies have the ability to make it through post-COVID and to market scale in general.”
Verdon also offered caution, saying companies should be critical of who they’re partnering with and their ability to grow together.
That critical thinking is a key factor in Waymo’s deployment time line.
“For Waymo, we are likely to see full driverless trucks begin to hit the road in the coming years, but we are working with our partners to be more specific on those time lines,” Verdon said.
He also emphasized the fact that driverless technology doesn’t mean drivers will become obsolete.
Verdon made it clear: The swap to driverless tech won’t happen overnight. Rolling out the software will take time to do safely and correctly, preserving jobs while protecting safety.