FedEx to test Aurora’s self-driving trucks on Dallas-to-Houston route

FedEx has started to use self-driving trucks to haul goods between Dallas and Houston as part of a pilot program with autonomous vehicle startup Aurora and heavy-duty vehicle manufacturer Paccar.

Paccar trucks that are equipped with Aurora’s technology will be used multiple times a week to complete the nearly 500-mile route along Interstate 45, the companies said Wednesday. The trucks will operate autonomously with a backup safety driver.

The partnership marks the latest progress by Aurora to meet its target to launch an autonomous trucking business that hauls loads between terminals without a safety driver by the end of 2023. It is also part of a string of announcements and updates made by the company in recent weeks ahead of a vote on its reverse merger with special purpose acquisition company Reinvent Technology Partners Y, the SPAC launched by LinkedIn co-founder and investor Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus and managing partner Michael Thompson.

The combined company, which will be listed on Nasdaq with the ticker symbol AUR, will have an implied valuation of $13 billion. Aurora was last valued at $10 billion following its acquisition of Uber’s self-driving unit.

“This is really about exploring and understanding the kind of changes that would need to be made to the truck,” Sterling Anderson, co-founder and CPO of Aurora told TechCrunch, adding that this includes how the self-driving system and the cloud services it provides fits with FedEx’s operations.

The pilot will involve a small number of trucks, Anderson said. “It doesn’t make sense to launch huge pilots right off the bat,” he said. “With a handful of trucks operating regularly, we can really start to suss out any of the tweaks and refinements to the product in the interface.”

There is no end date to the pilot, and Anderson expects it to evolve and extend beyond these handful of trucks on the Dallas-to-Houston route as the company gets closer to a driverless capable product.

The pilot, which was launched Wednesday, follows a strategic announcement earlier this year between Aurora and Paccar to develop, test and commercialize autonomous Peterbilt and Kenworth trucks.

The partnership also illustrates FedEx’s interest in autonomous and robotics solutions, as the company continues to experience record delivery volumes. In June, the logistics giant announced a multiyear, multiphased strategic partnership to test and ultimately deploy Nuro’s next-generation autonomous delivery vehicle within FedEx operations.