Autonomous trucking continues to advance, as leading companies partner to test and commercialize services. J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. and Waymo LLC last week announced a collaboration to autonomously move freight in Texas for one of J.B. Hunt’s top customers.
“We’re thrilled to collaborate with J.B. Hunt as we advance and commercialize the Waymo Driver,” stated Charlie Jatt, head of commercialization for trucking at Waymo. “Our teams share an innovative and safety-first mindset as well as a deep appreciation for the potential benefits of autonomous driving technology in trucking. It’s companies and relationships like these that will make this technology a commercial reality in the coming years.”
Since its start as the Google Self-Driving Car Project in 2009, Waymo said it has been focused on building autonomous driving technology to improve safety and access to mobility. The Mountain View, Calif.-based subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. said its systems have drive more than 20 million miles on public roads across 10 states and 20 billion miles in simulation. It is reportedly raising up to $4 billion in funding.
The Waymo Driver powers Waymo One, which the company describes as “the world's first fully autonomous ride-hailing service,” as well as the Waymo Via, trucking and local delivery service. Waymo offers robotaxi services around Phoenix, Ariz., and has applied for permission to charge for self-driving car rides in San Francisco.
J.B. Hunt to test Class 8 autonomous trucks
J.B. Hunt claimed that it operates one of the largest company-owned fleets in North America and that its J.B. Hunt 360° is an industry leader in digital freight matching. J.B. Hunt Transport is a wholly owned subsidiary of JBHT, which has 60 years of transportation experience. J.B. Hunt said its service include intermodal, dedicated, refrigerated, truckload, less-than-truckload, flatbed, single-source, final-mile, and more.
The test run will use Waymo Via, the company’s autonomous Class 8 trucking unit powered by the Waymo Driver, to haul freight between facilities in Houston and Fort Worth, Texas.
The transport along Interstate 45 will be completed using Level 4 autonomous driving technology supervised by two onboard Waymo autonomous specialists. A commercially licensed driver and a software technician will monitor every aspect of the Waymo Driver’s operations throughout the runs.
“This will be one of the first opportunities for J.B. Hunt to receive data and feedback on customer freight moved with a Class 8 tractor operating at this level of autonomy,” said Craig Harper, chief sustainability officer and executive vice president at J.B. Hunt. “While we believe there will be a need for highly skilled, professional drivers for many years to come, it is important for J.B. Hunt as an industry leader to be involved early in the development of advanced autonomous technologies and driving systems to ensure that their implementation will improve efficiency while enhancing safety.”
Companies to consider fleets, long-term partnership
Through the collaboration, J.B. Hunt and Waymo will explore how autonomous driving technology can be integrated across fleets to enhance safety and efficiency.
The two companies have worked closely on operational and market studies that explored topics such as best practices for regular maintenance, what future facility layouts will look like, and which lanes are best suited for autonomous driving technology.
Lowell, Ark.-based J.B. Hunt and Waymo said the trial run will also help them define how they can continue working together in the long term. Waymo raised a total of $3 billion last year and could be looking for more funding, according to Bloomberg.