Waymo is an autonomous driving technology company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to get where they’re going. The Waymo Driver is the autonomous driving technology used to power Waymo One and Waymo Via. Waymo Via is Waymo’s goods delivery solution, including Class 8 trucking and local delivery. Autonomous driving technology will increase efficiency and reduce the costs of the supply chain. Waymo recently announced its collaboration with J.B. Hunt, “As we progress on this journey to commercialize the Waymo Driver for trucking, we’re now working with J.B. Hunt, one of the largest, most reputable, and most innovative transportation logistics companies in the U.S., to autonomously transport loads in Texas for one of their leading customers.”
Justin Smith, Senior Vice President with Lee & Associate’s Irvine office, spoke with Waymo, to discuss Waymo’s autonomous trucking unit and how they will change the way companies transport goods.
Are there requirements for warehouses to be able to ship and receive goods with Waymo Via?
This is a question we’re exploring right now by working with potential fleet customers in different settings to make sure the product we’re building will meet their needs and to understand how our solution can be integrated into fleets’ operations. There are two main ways we’re doing this: one is fleet pilots, where we haul freight on behalf of partners to amass real world learnings, and the other is fleet studies, which are essentially market and operational studies. The great thing about the fleet study format is that it’s an opportunity to get ahead of questions exactly like this one that you simply can’t test at today’s scale of pilots – things like how will these trucks be maintained, what will future facilities and warehouses look like, and which routes and lanes are most attractive.
Does the physical state of roadways and highways impact the delivery route of Waymo Via?
We aren’t asking cities or states to build out any special infrastructure for our autonomously driven trucks. Rather, our technology is designed to navigate the roads of today and will adapt to the roads of tomorrow.
When it comes to maintaining highways and roads we think about it like this: anything that helps human drivers travel more safely and efficiently is also going to help an autonomously driven vehicle, so governments should continue to invest in things like fixing potholes and reducing traffic.
Are weather conditions taken into more consideration with Waymo Via to ensure goods are delivered safely?
Currently, we don’t operate our trucks autonomously in any inclement weather conditions, but we continue to push our weather capabilities forward by testing in a diverse set of environments with unique conditions across the U.S and intend for our trucks to be able to operate in various weather conditions long-term. Our next-generation Waymo Driver is also being specifically designed to handle adverse weather conditions.
Will the next step for autonomous trucks be environmental sustainability? When do you predict autonomous trucks to be fully electric?
When it comes to things like electrification and the environment, autonomous driving technology may play a role in creating a greener and more sustainable future.
While our entire passenger car fleet is plug in hybrid or fully electric, our trucks are not currently electric. This is because there are currently no electric class 8 trucks made by OEMs at scale.
Do you predict more companies will turn to autonomous trucks to move goods as it becomes harder to retain truck drivers?
Yes. Right now, there’s a 60,000 shortfall of drivers in the U.S. today, a gap that’s projected to widen to 160,000 by 2028. Fully autonomous driving technology could first and foremost help narrow that gap.
Outside of addressing the constraints of the driver shortage, autonomously driven trucks can help amplify value for fleets all around since they are able to fill the supply of trucks where they’re needed most, including long routes which are tougher to recruit drivers for.
In what ways can Waymo Via maximize a company’s supply chain?
Our Waymo Via solution will lead to cost savings for fleets across the board, as our technology has the potential to reduce incidents on the road, lower insurance costs, increase fleet utilization and help ensure shipments arrive safely, securely, and on-time. This translates into lower operation costs, insurance costs, reduced costs for crashes, lost items and lower efficiency, as well as lower costs for the end consumer.
Additionally, because we can operate 24/7, we will eventually be able to help enhance fleets’ operations which are currently constrained by hours of service. This can also improve vehicle utilization for fleets and minimize downtime – maximizing the efficiency of moving the cargo that makes up the backbone of our economy.
When will we see Waymo Via on the roads throughout the US?
Within the coming years. We are the first company to deploy a fully autonomous fleet on public roads — anyone can go to Phoenix today and hail a ride in our autonomously driven vehicles using the Waymo One service. The process of launching Waymo One has taught us a tremendous amount about the technical and operational challenges required to fully remove a human driver from a passenger car, and gives us confidence that we can unlock this capability for trucks as well. This takes time and won’t happen overnight. And to clarify; it’s not about taking the driver out for the first time or for one ride on a predefined route; it’s about getting us to a place where the technology is ready to repeatedly provide, in fully autonomous mode 24/7, safe, capable, and consistent performance with a range of real customer loads.
Are there any regulations or legislation that have posed a challenge for autonomous trucks?
We’re appreciative of efforts from regulators, legislators and state officials to advance autonomous driving technology. Current federal and many state policies support the safe deployment of AVs.
Like developing the technology itself, regulating a new technology requires a gradual approach. We believe that collaborative relationships with federal, state, and local officials are key to safely testing and deploying fully autonomous driving technology. We work with others in the industry to remove any existing barriers to deployment of AVs and seek to void efforts to create new barriers.
How does the technology used on Waymo Via ensure shipments arrive safely?
The Waymo Driver doesn’t get tired, drunk, angry, or distracted. Our goal is to responsibly roll out technology that, by removing the common causes of human error and through continuous refinement, will increasingly improve safety.
Over the last decade, we’ve developed a testing process that blends systems engineering best practices with strategic and comprehensive validation using simulation, closed-course testing, and public roads testing with trained test drivers. We continuously test in the real world and in simulation to prove the capabilities of our Driver and ensure safety and have now driven our cars +20M miles on public roads and +20B miles in simulation, allowing us to learn from simulated “edge cases” and share this knowledge across our fleet.
Visit Waymo to learn more about their autonomous driving technology.