Self-driving start-up Aurora is joining forces with delivery giant FedEx and truck manufacturer PACCAR to pilot driverless-capable trucks in what is touted as the first commercial endeavour in the line-haul trucking industry.
PACCAR’s autonomously enabled trucks, configured with Aurora autonomous technology, have begun test-hauling FedEx loads between Dallas and Houston on a 500-mile round trip along the I-45 highway corridor. The trucks will operate autonomously with a backup driver for additional safety, the companies announced this week.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Aurora – which announced its partnership with PACCAR in January – is in the process of going public through a merger with special purpose acquisitions company Reinvent Technology Partners Y.
The merger amounts to an equity value of $11bn (£8.01bn) for Aurora, which expects to have about $2.5bn in cash at closing to commercialise self-driving trucks.
Aurora said it will use global engineering teams to develop an “accelerated development program” to create driverless-capable trucks starting with the Peterbilt 579 and the Kenworth T680. It will test the trucks at PACCAR’s technical centre in Mt. Vernon, Washington, and on public roads. A full rollout is anticipated by late 2023.
PACCAR, which designs and manufactures light, medium and heavy-duty trucks, called the collaboration the first of its kind between a truck manufacturer, an autonomous technology developer and a logistics provider.
“As leaders in our respective fields, we have critical and unique perspectives on how to develop and deploy safe, self-driving truck solutions for this industry,” said Sterling Anderson, Aurora’s chief product officer. “We believe there is no other credible way to deliver this complex and valuable technology at scale.”
Pandemic fuels demand for autonomous deliveries
The Covid pandemic has caused a jump in the volume of short-haul freight, creating a heightened demand for autonomous delivery vehicles to reduce driver contact. Aurora recently acquired Uber’s driverless vehicle division for a reported $4bn as part of an intended move toward filling the gap.
The collaboration is also seen as a win because of a looming shortage of drivers. In 2018, the American Trucking Association estimated an expected shortage of 50,000 drivers in the US.
Aurora, which tests its self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, has long set its sights on freight trucking. In July, Aurora said it hopes to put self-driving technology into trucks and then expand to deliveries and ride-hauling applications by 2025.