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Trucking Speeds Toward Sustainable, Self-Driving Future

The trucking sector is moving toward a sustainable, self-driving future.

After logistics startup TuSimple reported its successful 80-mile driverless pilot in Arizona, another autonomous trucking competitor has more trials in the works this year.

Trucking giant J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. expanded long-term partnership with Waymo Via, the autonomous trucking operation of Google’s self-driving division.

The J.B Hunt-Waymo Via alliance aims to integrate commercial autonomous driving technology into transportation and logistics and get a driver-free transport trip in Texas under its belt in the coming years.

Last year’s Waymo Via pilot “really helped us get a hands-on understanding of how autonomous driving technology could be implemented within our operations,” said Craig Harper, chief sustainability officer and executive vice president at J.B. Hunt, which pre-ordered Tesla trucks as early as 2017.

Moving the partnership forward will help J.B. Hunt develop driverless operations as a “value-driven solution for customers,” Harper added. “We believe autonomous driving technology will help us create the most efficient transportation network in North America, and our collaboration with Waymo Via is a pivotal step towards fulfilling that mission.”

The companies will conduct several test runs to prove out what Waymo Via can handle. The Google-owned venture offers autonomous Class 8 trucking unit powered by the Waymo Driver to home in the kinds of situations clients might face during their day to day. J.B. Hunt is in good company, as UPS just months ago also reupped with Waymo Via, asking the startup to haul freight using the self-driving Class 8 trucks.

J.B. Hunt’s upcoming pilots with an existing customer are set to run on Texas’ I-45 corridor, where its initial Waymo Via trial occurred last year.

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Waymo’s Daimler trucks leveraged the Waymo Driver autonomous platform to deliver 862,179 pounds of freight by the pilot’s conclusion without crashing or exceeding the speed limit. They also hit their pickup and delivery windows every time without compromising the freight, according to the company. A commercially licensed truck driver and a software technician traveled in the vehicle to monitor operations.

“Our collaboration with J.B. Hunt in 2021 was incredibly fruitful,” said Charlie Jatt, head of commercialization for trucking at Waymo. “Establishing this strategic alliance marks an exciting moment for our relationship, and more importantly, paves the way for us both to help grow the foundations for successful deployment and to capitalize on the benefits of autonomous driving technology. We’re incredibly grateful for our relationship with J.B. Hunt and their shared vision for the safety and efficiency benefits we can bring to the industry at a critical time.”

The nation’s autonomous trucking field now includes newly public TuSimple and rivals Aurora, Embark Trucks, Kodiak and Robotic Research, which recently raised $228 million. They’re all running pilots en route to “Level 4” capabilities, the stage at which trucks can safely operate without any humans involved. A recent autonomous trucking report projects that Level 4 trucks could be commercially available by 2025 and haul about 6.4 percent of the nation’s annual general freight tonnage by 2030, leading to a roughly $4.75 billion reduction in annual freight bills.

J.B. Hunt and Waymo are also exploring solutions merging autonomous driving technology and the digital marketplace. The J.B. Hunt 360 digital freight matching technology platform processed 1.2 million loads in 2020. A Waymo Via-J.B. Hunt 360 could improve transportation efficiency.

Operational and market studies of Waymo Via conducted during the collaboration aim to refine the driving technology’s commercial readiness.

U.K.’s electric Volta Trucks prep zero-emission deliveries

Over in the U.K., an electric vehicle manufacturer’s upcoming pilot looks are greening the sector—the most common use case for EVs.

U.K. property management giant Crown Estate will run an electric truck trial starting this summer with startup Volta Trucks to deliver goods to retailers on London’s busy Regent Street, helping merchants to consolidate deliveries while reducing roadway congestion and slashing emissions.

The trial will be run by the Crown Estate’s distribution provider Clipper Logistics and involve a prototype Volta Zero, a 16-tonne electric truck that is due to go into production by the end of 2022 at a former truck plant in Austria.

The pilot comes as the U.K. government proposed an effective ban on fossil fuel vehicles by 2030, forcing fleet operators to test and buy electric commercial vehicles to deliver parcels in crowded urban environments.

For the Crown Estate’s Regent Street customers, this pilot offers access to a single accessible consolidation center near high-profile retailers including Levi’s, John Lewis and H&M. Clipper Logistics will take delivery of goods at a warehouse outside London, consolidates packages into fewer trucks to Regent Street retailers.

“This partnership is another important step towards reducing congestion, improving air quality, and making our streets safer and more accessible across the West End,” said Judith Everett, executive director for purpose, sustainability and stakeholder at The Crown Estate. “It will be a win-win for us and our customers, helping support their deliveries and our joint sustainability ambitions. It builds on our continued work to trial and test to see what works best for everyone using our streets, now and in the future.”

The full-electric Volta Zero’s 95-to-125-mile range offers zero-emission deliveries between the consolidation center and surrounding stores. The truck’s glasshouse-style cab maximizes driver visibility and presents a safe working environment. Its 8.6-to payload means several smaller 3.5-tonne vans can stay off the streets.

“As a business, we recognize we are high mileage road users, but we are committed to reducing unnecessary road miles, and ensuring that what we do accumulate is cleaner,” said Mick Doe, transport operations director at Clipper Logistics. “We are delighted to partner with Volta Trucks and The Crown Estate as part of our on-going commitment to improving the Regent Street environment. The partnership demonstrates Clipper’s agility and logistics ability by working to combat congestion and environmental impact in one of the world’s busiest retail areas.”