January 06, 2022, USA, Las Vegas: Robotic truck company Aurora showcases an autonomous semi-truck at the CES technology show in Las Vegas. During the Corona pandemic, interest in autonomous freight transport has increased.
Andrej Sokolov | Image Alliance | Getty Images
Self-driving startup Aurora Innovation has ventured into trucking in Texas.
Aurora announced on Wednesday that it has begun a pilot test of autonomous tractor-trailers with logistics giant Werner Enterprises. Aurora’s self-driving system — called Aurora Driver — will operate Werner trucks on an approximately 600-mile stretch of highway between Fort Worth and El Paso.
This particular stretch is an important segment of a busy truck route between Atlanta and Los Angeles. But according to the companies, it’s a monotonous nine-hour commute that human truck drivers prefer to avoid, making it an ideal use case for the never-boring Aurora Driver system.
For now, Aurora-driven trucks will have human operators on board, ready to take over if needed. Aurora’s system isn’t called upon to handle tight urban driving situations either.
Despite the constraints, the test is a significant step forward for Aurora’s driverless technology at a time when trucking companies like Werner are grappling with a nationwide shortage of qualified human truck drivers.
Werner CEO Derek Leathers was quick to say the goal isn’t to replace the company’s human drivers entirely. Instead, he says, autonomous systems like Aurora’s will be able to handle routes that Werner’s human drivers would prefer to avoid, while increasing the company’s capacity during peak periods.
“We look forward to building a hybrid world where drivers continue to haul goods while self-driving trucks complement growing demand,” Leathers said.
This is Werner’s first experience with self-driving trucks, but it’s not Aurora Driver’s first deployment in large platforms. FedEx and Uber Technologies’ trucking unit, Uber Freight, is running similar pilot programs with heavy-duty trucks driven by Aurora. Aurora is also testing its Driver system with Toyota minivans in a ride-hailing fleet in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Aurora acquired Uber’s self-driving division in 2020.