Werner Enterprises, ever game for testing new technology, is aligning with Aurora Innovation Inc. to test supervised long-haul freight on a 600-mile stretch across Texas.
No customer name was offered last week when the startup autonomous vehicle developer announced that the Aurora Driver Beta 2.0 autonomous system was going for weekly long-distance pilot runs from a new terminal in Fort Worth to one in El Paso, a nine-hour journey. Werner began sending its loads via Aurora this week. Another unnamed customer got on board earlier.
The freight-dense corridor between Atlanta and Los Angeles is ideal for eventual driverless runs. Most drivers are bored by the monotony of the lane covered by westbound Interstates 20 and 10, miles of flat roads, big skies and brushy landscapes.
Autonomous trucking companies see a future in which autonomous trucks can handle less-popular routes like this, leaving human drivers to move shorter-distance loads that allow more home time. Over-the-road truckers can be out for two weeks, or longer, at a time.
The longer route is a capability expansion for Aurora, which currently hauls safety driver-supported autonomous loads for FedEx and Uber Freight on Interstate 45 between Palmer, Texas, and Houston, where it is also adding a terminal has Aurora is also providing autonomous ride hailing in Toyota Sienna minivans equipped with Aurora Driver in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Aurora (NASDAQ: AUR) and Werner (NASDAQ: WERN), a dedicated truckload and logistics provider, expect to increase the frequency of these loads over the next several months. They are exploring further autonomy on the route.
“Werner has a long history of pioneering new technology within the industry,” Derek Leathers, Werner’s chairman, president and CEO, said in a press release. “This collaboration and pilot with Aurora is another step forward in our commitment to sustainability and safety for our drivers, customers and the motoring public through innovation.
“We look forward to building a hybrid world where drivers continue to haul freight while autonomous trucks supplement rising demand,” Leathers said
The list of Werner’s collaborations is long, including:
- Investing in and joining the executive advisory board of autonomous trucking software developer TuSimple Holdings (NASDAQ: TSP), which is developing a Class 8 driverless truck with Navistar targeted for 2024.
- Testing a hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine from Cummins Inc. (NYSE: CMI) that could bridge the gap to hydrogen-powered fuel cells.
- Evaluating a Class 8 fuel cell truck when Cummins and Navistar International are ready to provide it.
- Experimenting with Cummins 15-liter natural gas engine due for U.S. production in 2024.
- Advising startup Hyliion Holdings, (NYSE: HYLN) which is developing a hybrid natural gas-electric powertrain that offers up to 100 miles of zero-emission electric range before switching to run on natural gas or renewable natural gas.
- Receiving one of the first Peterbilt Model 579 electric trucks. Werner has since evaluated a Class 8 Freightliner eCascadia from Daimler Truck.