The company sees a future of driverless semis covering long-distance routes.
It looks like Google’s autonomous spinoff Waymo is keen to grow – literally – in the self-driving realm. According to a report from Reuters, the company announced on June 1 that it was looking to develop driverless trucks. In a statement, Waymo said it was utilizing eight years of self-driving experience with both hardware and software to explore integrating such technology into a big rig.
That’s certainly a step up from autonomous passenger-car testing still underway, and it’s not as if you just check a few extra boxes on the programming to accommodate for extra weight and length. Anyone who’s driven a tractor-trailer semi is painfully aware of the numerous blind spots surrounding the truck, never mind varying trailer dynamics that can also affect the truck in vastly different ways. And since nearly all current semis utilize a multi-speed manual transmission, truly autonomous semis would require an automatic.
Waymo certainly isn't the first company to look at driverless trucking. Autonomous upstart Otto made waves last year for breaking the law in Nevada by trucking through the state without a driver behind the wheel at all times, an action captured on camera while toting a trailer loaded with 50,000 cans of beer. Technically, that event happened after the upstart had been acquired by Uber for $680 million, after which the company was sued by Waymo claiming corporate espionage. But that’s a different story.
If the technology can be sorted out, autonomous over-the-road trucking might not be a bad thing. That would free up long-distance drivers to handle more local routes, never mind the issue of fatigue behind the wheel. Still, an autonomous rig would have to negotiate bad weather, mountain passes, heavy traffic, and a thousand other situations that are almost second nature in a car, but are considerably more complicated in a fully-loaded 18-wheel truck.