Self-driving vehicle developer Waymo and shipping giant UPS launched a pilot program to use autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans to shuttle packages around the Phoenix metro area.
The vehicles will pick up packages at UPS stores and take them a local UPS sorting facility for processing.
Although the minivan will drive itself, a Waymo-trained driver will be in the cabin to monitor operations.
Waymo started developing self-driving technology more than a decade ago as the Google self-driving car project. Now it is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., the American Mountain View, Calif., tech company formerly called Google.
ROBOTIC DRIVING SYSTEM
The company calls its autonomous vehicle technology suite, “Waymo Driver.”
It is testing the robotic driving system in vehicle platforms that include passenger cars, vans and heavy-duty trucks. The company’s mission is to use self-driving technology to transport both people and goods.
Although the driver has 20 million miles of experience on public roads, each application presents different challenges that Waymo must work through.
The UPS pilot program will start in February.
“UPS and Waymo are exploring automated and autonomous technologies to enhance network operations,” said Scott Price, UPS chief strategy and transformation officer. “Getting packages to our sortation facilities sooner and more frequently, while also creating an opportunity for later drop-offs for next-day service, can add enormous value for our customers.”
The two companies will analyze whether autonomous ground vehicles improve customer service and network efficiency. They hope to develop a long term partnership to help move the onslaught of goods UPS delivers as part of the e-commerce boom.
A partnership could be lucrative for both companies. The UPS Store has 4,800 locations. They often become jammed with packages, limiting the space available to both customers and staff. Autonomous vans have the potential to drive set circuits continuously, allowing for more frequent pickups from the stores. UPS currently uses its fleet of brown delivery trucks staffed by human drivers to transport packages in the store network.
“Our partnership with UPS allows us to continue developing how our Waymo Driver can facilitate pickups,” said Tekedra Mawakana, Waymo chief operating officer.
Self-driving trucks could eventually be melded into the distribution system. Waymo is testing driving autonomous trucks along interstate highways in Texas. It wants to learn how to apply its technology to long-haul freight. It picked Texas because the state has high freight volume and is a favorable regulatory environment for deploying self-driving vehicles.
Waymo also likes to use states such as Arizona and Texas for its tests because they have good road systems and mild winter weather. Snow and ice buildup on vehicle sensors can interfere with the technology.
UPS GOES ELECTRIC
UPS also said it will collaborate with Arrival to develop a wide range of electric vehicles with advanced driver-assistance systems. The technology is designed to increase safety and operating efficiencies, including the potential for automated movements in UPS depots.
“UPS continues to build an integrated fleet of electric vehicles, combined with innovative, large-scale fleet charging technology,” said Juan Perez, UPS chief information and engineering officer. “As mega-trends like population growth, urban migration, and e-commerce continue to accelerate, we recognize the need to work with partners around the world to solve both road congestion and pollution challenges.”