Waymo and Daimler Forge Self-Driving Truck Alliance

October 27, 2020 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Daimler Trucks and Waymo reached a deal to collaborate on the development of self-driving trucks.

Waymo, which launched in 2009 as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, will provide its automated technology for a new version of Daimler’s Freightliner Cascadia Class 8 truck.

Daimler said the autonomous Freightliner Cascadia truck equipped with the Waymo Driver will go into commercial production in the coming years but did not provide a timeline. It would operate at what the industry calls Level 4 automation. That means the truck would drive without human intervention.

“We will not release a vehicle for Level 4 operation until we’re absolutely convinced that it is safe to operate,” said Roger Nielsen, chief executive of Daimler Trucks North America. “There are millions of miles of testing, both assimilated and in real life, that we need to drive to the point where we are convinced that we have this solution properly designed and developed.”

The companies also said they will consider expanding their partnership to other markets and brands. Daimler owns the Western Star truck brand in the U.S. and sells under the Mercedes-Benz name in Europe. It also owns the Mercedes-Benz passenger car brand.

Waymo is taping Daimler’s expertise in chassis design and its relationship with heavy-duty truck component suppliers to develop steering and braking systems with redundancies designed for autonomous driving.

“The development of redundant steering systems, redundant braking systems, redundant powertrain control systems is extremely important for this space to evolve,” John Krafcik, Waymo’s chief executive, said in a briefing with reporters.

He said the truck industry lacks the necessary components “and it’s going to take quite a while for suppliers and for folks like Daimler to develop those.”

Between the Freightliner and Western Star brands, Daimler has about 39 percent of the Class 8 truck market in the U.S., according to Statista, a market research firm.  That’s an important signal for the industry, Krafcik said, and will help the partnership “convince the supplier network that we’re serious about bringing level four autonomous driving to the marketplace.”

The agreement with Waymo will run parallel to other autonomous truck efforts by Daimler, said Martin Daum, who heads the German company’s global truck business.

Daimler purchased Blacksburg, Va.-based Torc Robotics last year to bolster its self-driving vehicle operations.

Earlier this month, Torc Robotics said it plans to expand self-driving truck testing in the Southwest early next year using an enhanced prototype truck developed with Daimler Trucks North America.

“With our strategic partnership with Waymo as the leader in autonomous driving, we are taking another important step towards that goal. This partnership complements Daimler Trucks’ dual strategy approach, of working with two strong partners to deliver autonomous L4 solutions that are seamlessly integrated with our best-in class trucks, to our customers,” Daum said.

Other truck builders also are developing autonomous big rigs.

Traton Group, the truck unit of German automaker Volkswagen, said it plans to develop self-driving trucks with TuSimple.

The San Diego, Calif., self-driving technology company already has a similar deal with Navistar International Corp. to develop International brand autonomous vehicles for the U.S. market.

TuSimple is pushing aggressively into autonomous trucking. Earlier this year it unveiled an agreement to team with UPS and other major trucking players to organize what it says will be the first autonomous freight network.

Besides UPS, the partners include Penske Truck Leasing, motor carrier U.S. Xpress and McLane, a national logistics company owned by Berkshire Hathaway. The goal is to create a nationwide network of digitally mapped routes connecting hundreds of terminals that will enable, low-cost long-haul autonomous freight operations starting in the Southwestern U.S.

Waymo said it expects to work with many partners as it develops and commercializes self-driving technology for cars and a variety of truck classes. Its long-term strategy includes partnering with manufacturers to outfit their trucks with the Waymo Driver. Fleets would then buy or lease vehicles from the truck builders. But in the near term Waymo has its own test fleet and also will partner with carriers who want to use the test fleet to haul freight.

Jerry Hirsch August 25, 2020
Autonomous vehicle technology developer Waymo started testing heavy-duty Peterbilt trucks in Texas this week.

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