Google's autonomous vehicle unit to test semis in Atlanta

Waymo moves beyond driverless taxis with trucking program

Google-owned Waymo on Friday said that its self-driving trucks will haul cargo bound for the internet giant's data centres in Georgia.

The trucks will have safety drivers on board to monitor the various systems and take control if needed.

To accomplish this, Waymo will be teaming up with Google's logistics team to accelerate the development of their self-driving semi truck technology and "integrate it into the operations of shippers and carriers".

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Waymo for years has been testing self-driving cars, racing against smartphone-summoned ride star Uber, whose trucking service uses humans to pick up cargo from Uber Freight customers and drive it in trailers to transfer hubs. Waymo says the "principles are the same, but things like braking, turning, and blind spots are different with a fully-loaded truck and trailer".

"They benefit from the same advanced self-driving software that has enabled our cars to go fully driverless in Arizona", the Waymo team said. During that process, Waymo began collecting data and mapping the metro Atlanta area to safely expand the operations of their self-driving cars. Of course, Waymo's eventual goal is for its trucks to take care of themselves, and the company said that its pilot will help that vision become a reality sooner rather than later.

Going the distance: Waymo has already driven five million miles on public roads and another five billion in simulation.

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While the automotive industry is focused on self-driving cars, operating self-driving cars on city streets seems much more complicated than sending a truck down the highway without a driver. These lessons could eventually be applied to other companies who use trucks with Waymo's technology.

Autonomous-vehicle technology has been touted as having potential to save fuel, ease congestion, and make transportation safer. So we may see self-driving trucks on the roads before cars without drivers. A Waymo spokeswoman declined to say how many trucks will be tested.

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