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Seasonal assist: Waymo Via testing autonomous trucks with UPS in Texas

First trucking test of Gen 5 software that Waymo Via will build into Freightliner Cascadias

Waymo Via is testing its fifth-generation autonomous software in Texas with UPS. (Photo: Waymo Via)

Waymo Via is joining the freight-dense Interstate 45 route from Fort Worth, Texas, to Houston in a six-week test of its latest autonomous trucking software for UPS that comes as the package delivery company benefits from extra help for the holiday shipping season.

The human-supervised Class 8 trucks with the Generation 5 Waymo Driver system are the first commercial application of Waymo’s system that will be integrated into Freightliner Cascadias through Waymo’s partnership with Daimler Trucks North America. Daimler also is developing a self-driving truck internally with independent subsidiary Torc Robotics.

“We hope to gather early learnings about how autonomous driving technology can help enhance safety and efficiency, evaluate the performance of the autonomous system and successful delivery of freight, and understand how to refine our autonomous operations in this use case for eventual scaling,” Waymo wrote in a blog post on its website.

Waymo’s deliveries for UPS’ North American Air Freight business will travel in autonomous mode on the interstate but be driven by a human driver from Waymo’s terminal near Fort Worth to UPS’ dropoff in Houston.

Busy route

The north-south freeway from the Dallas Metroplex to Houston is getting busier with autonomous truck testing. Waymo rival Aurora Technology is running several supervised loads a week for FedEx from its terminal south of Dallas to Houston in a project that also includes manufacturing partner Paccar Inc.

Rivals Embark Technology (NASDAQ: EMBK) and Kodiak Robotics also carry revenue-generating robot-driven loads with onboard safety drivers in Texas.

TuSimple Holdings (NASDAQ: TSP), in which UPS is an investor, recently said it has accumulated 160,000 autonomous miles for UPS and is expanding into its airfreight unit with runs from Arizona to Florida and North Carolina by the end of the year.

Alphabet Inc.-backed Waymo recently concluded a test using Chrysler Pacifica minivans with seats removed to shuttle packages between UPS stores in greater Phoenix and a UPS hub in Tempe, Arizona. The vehicles had autonomous specialists on board and were not fully autonomous. That pilot began in January 2020 and used the fourth-generation Waymo Driver.

“While it’s still early days, this partnership with UPS is a great example of how Waymo Via is creating an autonomous delivery solution spanning trucking and local delivery,” the company said.

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.