Trends in Technology
Imagine getting into your car, entering a location into its interface, and just settling in with no effort required. You could scroll through your phone, read a book, or even take a nap until your destination arrives. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? In the past decade, self-driving vehicles progressed from “maybe possible” to “inevitable” to “available for commercial retail.” The stuff of science fiction is now a full-blown reality. It’s only a matter of time before autonomous vehicles become mainstream. Google commenced its autonomous vehicles project in 2009, and seven years later, its parent company Alphabet acquired Waymo, making it Google’s official self-driving project. Waymo’s self-driving minivans and trucks will soon hit markets across Texas and New Mexico with five years in the market.
Waymo Expands Business to Texas and New Mexico
Alphabet is looking at expansion beyond its robotaxi business. What once was its core focus will now be joined by self-driving minivans and trucks across Texas and parts of New Mexico. In a recent tweet, the company stated that mapping and testing would begin soon. The tweet also explained that Alphabet picked these areas due o their commercial interest and promise. The company is also keen to explore how the Waymo self-driving system (known as the Waymo Driver) can generate new transport solutions.
Additionally, Waymo mentions that Texas bears an exceptionally high freight volume, which is why the company is mainly focusing on its interstates. Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica minivan will conduct the initial mapping of the program. Eventual testing will then commence in areas, like Dallas, El Paso, and Houston, and will primarily run across interstates 10, 20, and 45. Waymo’s focus in New Mexico, moreover, is the southern-most end of the state. Texas routes hold special appeal partly because the state is especially eager to accommodate autonomous vehicle experiments.
Previously, the same big-rigs mapping and testing process took place in Georgia, California, and Arizona. This expansion is set to add to the company’s footprint as Alphabet approaches its vision. The company plans on making freight work safer with sensors and computers rolling down interstates with no one at the wheel.
According to the American Trucking Associations, trucks carry 70% of the US domestic freight by tonnage. Last year witnessed a 3.3% increase, adding up to make the 10th consecutive annual increase. Long-haul trucking also makes for a less complicated self-driving environment, which makes real-world testing and implementation easier.
Not Waymo’s First Rodeo
The Alphabet subsidiary is no stranger to the great state of Texas. October 2015 marked the company’s groundbreaking demonstration of Firefly, the prototype with no pedals or steering wheel. Waymo’s Austin office abruptly shut down in November 2019 with no explanation. According to CNBC, over a hundred employees and contractors lost their jobs in the process.
Reportedly, Waymo is also testing a new vehicle in its Mountain View headquarters’ vicinity. After inking a deal with Jaguar Land Rover in 2018, the company purchased 20,000 I-Paces to be converted into self-driving taxis. During the time, Waymo announced that the new vehicles would become a part of their ride-hailing service starting in 2020.
With Waymo’s electric SUVs prepped and primed to join their fleet this year, now’s the best time to announce the latest addition to the self-driving family.
Waymo Competitors and Alternatives
The auto-vehicle industry is highly competitive. Between Tesla’s electric Tesla Semi rumored to get the self-driving capability soon, Uber testing its self-driving big rigs, and new startups like Embark looking to introduce complete self-driving ability to a fleet of trucks, Waymo has its work cut out. Nevertheless, the product lead for Waymo Trucking, Vijaysai Patnaik, believes that the company’s early start gives it an edge.
As mentioned before, Waymo started testing self-driving cars in 2009. Their self-driving trucks also depend on the same combination of cameras, radar, and lidar to sense the road, road hazard, traffic, traffic signals, and pedestrians. The only contingency lies in their configuration – different maneuvering characteristics, slower driving speeds, and longer stopping distances. Patnaik adds that Waymo’s trucks test every day in operating areas, providing meaningful insights from different environments and locations.
With over 1,500 active passengers in Phoenix suburbs, Waymo’s reputation for its ride-hailing self-driving minivan service exceeds itself. Though the company doesn’t have a target audience in mind, long-haul trucking offers another competitive and lucrative opportunity.
It’s only a matter of time before Waymo’s self-driving minivans and trucks will become a regular sight on busy Texas and New Mexico interstates.