By on May 31, 2019

Alphabet’s Waymo probably operates the most successful autonomous fleet in North America right now. While we can debate its technical prowess versus its rivals forever, it’s still one of the only companies offering a commercial taxi service using autonomous vehicles in North America. It also has an enviable safety record.

The company has also worked on adapting the technology for Class 8 trucks, testing such units previously in California, Atlanta, and Arizona. Recently, the company tweeted that self-driving semis would soon return for more testing in Phoenix — where it runs its Pacifica-based early rider program — as the company places a renewed emphasis on their development.

“Our fully self-driving trucks are returning to Arizona to continue testing on Phoenix-area freeways,” the company announced. “Let us know what you think if you see them on the road!”

Waymo says its current goals include expanding its existing taxi services beyond Phoenix while rejiggering its technologies to work with semi trucks. The firm said the larger vehicles will use much of the hardware already found on its Pacifica vans, with a pair of operators tasked with conducting more extensive testing than was previously possible in Arizona.

While that brings 3.5 million truck drivers one step closer to employment Armageddon, experts have begun to suggest that large self-driving vehicles will likely need a safety operator to handle emergencies and a team to conduct regular maintenance procedures and safety inspections. Early autonomous systems will only be able to navigate highways and, even as they grow more advanced, won’t be able to handle things like a flat tire or extreme weather conditions. Ultimately, that means fewer ended careers than previously anticipated. However, it seems unlikely that the swap to autonomous deliveries won’t still result in the shipping industry hemorrhaging jobs over the next few decades.

[Images: Waymo]

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15 Comments on “Waymo Refocuses on Semis, Heads Back to Phoenix for Testing...”


  • avatar
    R Henry

    My Crystal Ball shows me dedicated Autonomous Truck lanes on Interstates 10 and 40. The truck/trailers will be human piloted for the loading and unloading segments of the cycle. The loaded truck will be delivered to staging yards at dedicated entry points along the interstates. The truck will then be sent in AV mode in dedicated lane(s) on trips over 500 miles, and will exit into an Arrivals yard along the interstate, where a human pilot will then drive the truck to the final unloading location.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    My Crystal Ball shows me dedicated, segregated Autonomous Truck lanes on Interstates 10 and 40. The truck/trailers will be human piloted for the loading and unloading segments of the cycle. The loaded truck will be delivered to staging yards at dedicated entry points along the interstates. The truck will then be sent in AV mode in dedicated lane(s) on trips over 500 miles, and will exit into an Arrivals yard along the interstate, where a human pilot will then drive the truck to the final unloading location.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I just don’t see any budget for separate autonomous truck lanes. I’d be happy with separate lanes soley for human operated EV trucks for safety /emission reasons would be a plausible sell to voters.Autonomous at a later date would be a boon, but I dont want to share a road with one at this time

  • avatar
    EGSE

    A subset of autonomous trucking could begin now using the “platoon” model and the staging area concept that R Henry mentions above. The lead truck contains a driver who also is the sensor suite and decision-maker. The rest of the vehicles play follow-the-leader where the space between the trucks is easy to understand and has a minimum of complexity. Through local V2V communication trucks 2 through X know where they are in the line-up and how far to go before they take the same action as the driver. The problems would not be technical but legal, legislative (“we’re losing our jobs and we vote!!”) and assignment of liability.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    If Waymo autonomous technology was really as good as some techno-nerds designing it but who don’t even drive in real life think it is, they should run a fleet of Ice Road Trucks. That would sort out their precious algorithms in about a mile.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Not any more than training for the Phoenix Marathon by stumbling around the arctic on snowshoes would…..

      Other drivers is why autonomous vehicles don’t/won’t/can’t work. Natural obstacles, while sometimes difficult, present finite engineering problems.

      But human traffic, like all human interactions, is not like that. It is, rather, a game of multiplayer chicken. And that is a game which is somewhere in the vicinity of 2 billion orders of magnitude harder to get your nitrous powered calculator to play as well as humans do.

      Eventually, someone will wise up and segregate human and machine driven vehicles. That way, the model that drivers are acting in a cooperative fashion, can be designed in from the get-go. Hence be something more than the silly, naive fantasy of sheltered children.

      Then, once cooperation between vehicles is assured globally, optimizing traffic flow efficiency to a degree not even remotely achievable in a world populated with evolutionarily-constrained-to-be locally self-optimizing, myopic, chicken-playing human drivers, becomes very much an achievable goal. But first, you gotta keep’em separated.

  • avatar
    civicjohn

    Hey, there will be 1 million Robotaxis to all Tesla owners making bank in 2020. All of these other wannabes will just have to sit back and watch the money roll in. Elon has got this down.

  • avatar
    tonyd

    If all class 8 truckers had a 9 to 5 job. 9PM to 5 AM that is. No need for dedicated lanes. These auto trucks won’t be doing .1 mph passes that some drivers think is “professional”.

  • avatar

    Why is the press wasting so much print on autonomous vehicles. This technology is never going to see the light of day as a mainstream technology. Maybe the people on Wall Street are inventing the next big thing so they have something to invest in. This seems pretty reminiscent of the dot com boom of the mid 90s. We all know how that turned out.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      It’s the AI hype of the 50s all over. Now supercharged by an “economy” where a runaway Fed, government and “legal” system, has enriched the dumb, naive and gullible beyond any and all rhyme or reason; by way of robbing the competent and realistic to the point of rendering them irrelevant and nonthreatening.


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