Waymo's self-driving 18-wheelers hit the road in Georgia

Waymo's self-driving 18-wheelers hit the road in Georgia

Literally, in this case - from self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans to autonomous Class 8 semi-trucks. Waymo is starting out small with this pilot test, using these semi trucks to carry cargo destined for Google's data centers.

Uber uses a "transfer hub" model, where a human driver takes a trailer through busy city streets at the beginning and end of a trip, while a self-driving truck drives a long-haul, freeway-only route in between. Waymo has also tested the trucks on roads in California and Arizona but a spokesperson says they are "accelerating their learning and moving into a new phase of testing in Georgia". Waymo will also work with Google's logistics team to find other places in the supply chain where self-driving technology can be used-inside factories and distribution centers, say, or at port terminals. "The principles are the same, but things like braking, turning, and blind spots are different with a fully-loaded truck and trailer". 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. In January, Google brought its self-driving cars and minivans to Atlanta for testing and mapping. It's doing this through the same way you'd each anyone with passenger vehicle driving experience on how to drive a semi truck. Another startup called Embark has been hauling real cargo with autonomous trucks (and a safety driver behind the wheel) since last fall.

Waymo believes self-driving technology has the potential to make this sector safer and more efficient. Rival Uber made a similar announcement on Tuesday, saying it is using self-driving semi trucks to augment human-driven rigs in its on-demand trucking service in the U.S. state of Arizona. So we may see self-driving trucks on the roads before cars without drivers.

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Thus far, Waymo seems to have focused mostly on applying its self-driving technology to the ride-hailing market.

Waymo's self-driving trucks will start rolling out next week.

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