Alphabet's Waymo to test driverless trucks in Atlanta

Fleet of autonomous freight trucks will operate in Georgia’s capital this week, taking deliveries to Google’s data centres

FILE- In this Dec. 13, 2016, file photo a skylight is reflected in the rear window of a Waymo driverless car during a Google event in San Francisco. Just days after ride-hailing service Uber announced it was testing tractor-trailers that drive themselves, Google’s autonomous vehicle operation announced similar testing in Georgia on Friday, March 9, 2018. Waymo says that starting next week it will run self-driving rigs in the Atlanta area with human backup drivers. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
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Waymo, the self-driving vehicle unit of Alphabet , is taking its driverless truck tests to Atlanta, and this time they’ll be carrying cargo.

“Atlanta is one of the biggest logistics hubs in the country, making it a natural home for Google’s logistical operations and the perfect environment for our next phase of testing Waymo’s self-driving trucks,” the company wrote in a blog post.

Waymo will start testing a fleet of autonomous freight trucks in Georgia’s capital this week that will take deliveries to Google’s data centres. The company has already been conducting road tests for the self-driving Semis in California and Arizona for the past year, but this new pilot lets Waymo expand its understanding of how shippers and carriers will integrate the trucks into their distribution networks, Bloomberg said.

The race is heating up to remove the driver and get autonomous freight trucks on the road. Germany’s Daimler AG got a jump on Waymo when it showed off its fully licensed autonomous Freightliner Inspiration truck at the Hoover Dam in 2015. Tesla Inc. has also promised an autonomous truck as the transport industry looks for ways to cut from the equation human drivers who need rest stops and paychecks.

The bright blue trucks in Waymo's Atlanta pilot will still have back-up drivers in the cabs to monitor systems and take control if needed. Waymo has installed its self-drive system and some of the same sensors used on its driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans to enable the Peterbilt Class 8 Semis to drive themselves. A Waymo spokeswoman declined to say how many trucks will be tested.


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The Waymo move comes amid rapid technological change in the rucking industry.

In January, The National reported that Sharjah-based Bee'ah, the region's fastest-growing environmental management company, will buy 50 Tesla Semi heavy duty electric trucks – the first and largest fleet of the newly unveiled vehicle in the Middle East – the company said at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi.

“Sustainability is at the very core of what we do, and the pursuit of this feeds into every level of our organisation. That is why we have made this investment in our transportation fleet, which occurs with a view towards a larger goal – achieving the objectives of the National Agenda for UAE Vision 2021," said Khaled Al Huraimel, the group chief executive of Bee’ah.

Launched in California by Tesla's chief executive Elon Musk, the new truck will provide Bee’ah’s logistics operation with vehicles capable of travelling 805 kilometres on a single charge. Running on battery power, the trucks are guaranteed for 1.6 million km of usable life, while carrying 36,287 kilogrammes of cargo.

Also in January, Waymo said it would start testing its minivans in Atlanta to experiment with driving in the city’s dense traffic and high summer temperatures. Testing trucks takes it a step further, the company told Bloomberg.

“Our software is learning to drive big rigs in much the same way a human driver would after years of driving passenger cars,” the company's post said. “The principles are the same, but things like braking, turning and blind spots are different with a fully-loaded truck and trailer.”