Waymo, Alphabet Inc.’s autonomous driving unit, is expanding a partnership with UPS beyond urban delivery vans to include robotic semi-trucks to haul much bigger loads for the global logistics giant in Texas.
The Mountain View, California-based company says it’s starting the new trial phase with UPS as the year-end holiday season begins, and with it, unusually high demand for trucking services. Its Waymo Via division, which focuses on autonomous trucking and deliveries, will be making delivery runs for UPS’ North American Air Freight unit between facilities in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.
UPS has “proven to be an incredible partner to us over the years,” said Charlie Jatt, Waymo’s head of commercialization for trucking. “We couldn’t be happier to expand our work together into freight movement with Class-8 trucks and evaluate the impact the Waymo Driver can have on safety and operational efficiency.”
Current supply-chain headaches, backed-up ports and a shortage of long-haul truck drivers have increased interest in companies that are developing autonomous solutions to smooth out delivery snags. This month both Aurora and Embark, two developers of robotic truck technology raised cash through public stock listings, following San Diego-based TuSimple, which held its IPO in April and aims to begin operating big rigs with no human at the wheel as early as next year.
Waymo, which operates a commercial robotaxi service in suburban Phoenix with its Waymo One division, has boosted its trucking program over the past year, inking a production partnership with Daimler, enlisting Ryder as a service provider and building a high-tech autonomous truck depot in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The company currently has a fleet of four dozen semis for testing and deliveries by Waymo Via, though it didn’t say how many of those trucks will be used for UPS freight. Currently, it does trial runs with a backup human driver behind the wheel.
Waymo Via began hauling smaller shipments for UPS last year, modifying some of its Chrysler Pacifica minivans to haul packages rather than passengers between which retail UPS stores and a distribution facility in suburban Phoenix.