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Waymo Via, the trucking arm of Alphabet’s self-driving company, has expanded its UPS partnership to conduct autonomous trial runs with class 8 trucks.
Previously, the two companies had collaborated on sending parcels from UPS stores in the Metro Phoenix area of Arizona to the UPS Tempe hub slightly outside the city centre using modified Chrysler Pacifica minivans.
However, this new plan will involve significantly larger 18-wheeler class 8 trucks. Over the next several weeks, Waymo Via will begin trial runs in Texas, delivering for UPS’ North American Air Freight unit facilities between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.
The company hopes to gather information about how autonomous driving tech can help enhance safety and efficiency and evaluate the performance of its autonomous system. It’s also hoped that the company will be able to expand its operations.
Waymo is being coy on exactly how many vehicles will take part in the six-week pilot, though it did confirm to TechCrunch that “multiple trucks” will be used. The trucks will also carry two specialists onboard – one driver and another software technician. The software technician will monitor the driver’s operations whilst in autonomous mode.
It’s also worth noting that the trucks will be self-driving only on highways before switching back to manual modes for smaller streets. This, of course, could prove hugely beneficial for drivers, removing monotonous highway driving.