Alphabet-owned Waymo, the autonomous driving technology that began life as Google’s self-driving car project, is evaluating a move into self-driving trucking. The company told BuzzFeed that it’s currently conducting a “technical exploration” of how its “technology can integrate into a truck,” a test which involves use of a single truck, being driven only by people in order to collect data at this stage.
Waymo has not talked about any specific interest in the world of autonomous trucking prior to now, but one of its former employees, Anthony Levandowski, founded a self-driving transport trucking company called Otto upon his departure. Levandowski’s company was acquired by Uber, which put the former Google employee in charge of its self-driving engineering operations, but he was fired earlier this week for continually refusing to comply with Uber’s own internal investigation related to a Waymo suit that accused him of stealing Google employees and trade secrets.
Self-driving trucking is considered one of the lower-hanging fruits of the self-driving industry, since it involves relatively uncomplicated navigation of long stretches of highway driving. A hybrid model, in which a human driver is still present and ready to take over once trucks enter city driving scenarios, is a popular option being pursued in the sector as a way to make practical commercial use of the technology much more easily attainable. A startup called Embark recently debuted with this model, and is approved to test autonomous truck tech on Nevada roads.
Waymo recently kicked off public trials of an on-demand autonomous ride hailing service in Phoenix, Arizona, using its current generation self-driving Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans.