Waymo, Daimler to partner in developing self-driving semi trucks

by SpeedLux
Alphabet's Waymo self-driving car

Daimler AG’s commercial truck unit and Alphabet Inc’s Waymo on Tuesday said they will work on the development of self-driving Class 8 semi-trucks, applying Waymo’s automated system to Daimler’s Freightliner Cascadia.

Class 8 trucks are semi-trucks and other large commercial vehicles with a carrying capacity surpassing 33,000 lb (14,969 kg).

The partnership speeds up a race to put automated heavy-duty trucks on the road, with a handful of powerful teams chasing commercial consumers looking to decrease dependence on human drivers.

Waymo Chief Executive John Krafcik said during a conference call that it will take time for significant suppliers of Class 8 truck hardware to develop the braking, steering, and other technology needed to bring a completely automated semi to market in high volume.

“These are super-long timelines,” he said.

The agreement is another win for Waymo as it attempts to bring aboard more established automakers. Waymo has also worked with U.S. truck maker PACCAR Inc, whose brands consist of Peterbilt and Kenworth, but said it does not have an official development agreement with the Bellevue, Washington company.

Daimler Trucks North America, whose brands include Freightliner and Western Star, and rival PACCAR together control over 70 percent of the U.S. Class 8 heavy truck sector, according to John Stark, editor of Stark’s Truck & Off-Highway Ledger.

Martin Daum, head of Daimler Trucks, said the agreement with Waymo does not modify the German company’s previously declared plan to spend 500 million euros on automated truck development. Daum and Roger Nielsen, head of Daimler Trucks North America, said Daimler’s in-house efforts to develop a robotic truck driver will continue.

“Having a dual strategy approach, working with Waymo and another company, gives our customers a choice,” Nielsen said.

Waymo has been working on self-driving vehicles for more than a decade, going back to when it was part of Alphabet’s Google unit. The group initially focused on robo-taxis but in 2017 set up Waymo Via to build a goods delivery service using automated commercial vehicles, including heavy trucks.

Daimler and PACCAR will square off against Tesla, which has said it prepares to start building its automated electric Semi truck next year at a new plant located in Austin, Texas.

Other heavy truck makers preparing to put automated vehicles into commercial service consists of Volkswagen AG’s Traton, which is collaborating with Pittsburgh-based Argo, and is negotiating the acquisition of Illinois-based Navistar International.

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