Waymo Via and J.B. Hunt Transport Services have announced a long-term strategic alliance that will mean many more autonomous trucking pilot runs on I-45 between Fort Worth and Houston—with plans “to complete fully autonomous transport in Texas in the next few years.”
We wrote in June about the companies’ earlier pilot test runs of robotically driven freight on I-45, with a driver and technician in the cab to monitor operations.
The expanded collaboration will feature multiple pilots to further analyze the capabilities of Waymo Via, the company’s autonomous Class 8 trucking unit powered by the Waymo Driver, “to address customer needs in realistic scenarios.” The pilots will be conducted in “the same lane” of I-45 as the ones last summer.
Waymo has raised $5.7B, is building a trucking hub in Lancaster
The news comes as Mountain View, California-based Waymo has been building a 9-acre autonomous trucking hub in Lancaster, just south of Dallas. It’s scheduled to open in early 2022. Last June, the company announced it had raised $2.5 billion in its second outside funding round, on top of its initial $3.2 billion raise in 2020.
2021 I-45 pilot runs offered a ‘hands-on understanding’
“Our pilot last year with Waymo Via really helped us get a hands-on understanding of how autonomous driving technology could be implemented within our operations,” Craig Harper, chief sustainability officer and EVP at Lowell, Arkansas-based J.B. Hunt, said in a statement. “This strategic alliance will continue that momentum and further explore the intricate details that would make this a value-driven solution for customers.”
“We believe autonomous driving technology will help us create the most efficient transportation network in North America, and our collaboration with Waymo Via is a pivotal step towards fulfilling that mission,” he added.
Charlie Jatt, head of commercialization for trucking at Waymo, calls the team-up “incredibly fruitful.”
“Establishing this strategic alliance marks an exciting moment for our relationship, and more importantly, paves the way for us both to help grow the foundations for successful deployment and to capitalize on the benefits of autonomous driving technology,” Jatt said in the statement.
Merging autonomous driving and the digital marketplace
The two firms are also collaborating beyond the highway.
J.B. Hunt’s tech platform, J.B. Hunt 360°, is an industry leader in digital freight matching and was responsible for processing 1.2 million loads in 2020,according to the company.
Waymo has over a decade of experience in building autonomous driving technology. It’s driven over 20 million miles on public roads across over 13 U.S. states, as well as 20 billion miles in simulation.
The companies say their combined solution—which would make Waymo Via accessible through J.B. Hunt 360—would be “a unique offering with potential to greatly improve transportation efficiency.”
The firms will also be conducting operational and market studies to refine the commercial readiness of the driving tech.
Waymo’s beginnings date to 2009 at Google
Waymo originally launched in 2009 as Google’s self-driving car project. In 2016 the autonomous driving tech firm became an Alphabet subsidiary and was renamed Waymo.
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