Car Industry

Waymo brings autonomous expertise to big rigs

It's still not time to panic about jobs, though.

Waymo

Over the last eight years and change, Waymo -- formerly Google's car division -- has been hard at work developing hardware and software for self-driving cars. Now, it's thinking bigger. Much bigger.

Waymo is working to bring its autonomous know-how to the trucking industry, Reuters reports. Specifically, it's working on Class 8 trucks, which have weight limits north of 33,001 pounds -- Class 8 trucks are the semis you see out on roads across the country. Waymo did not immediately return a request for comment, but it confirmed its program to several other outlets.

Up until now, Waymo's autonomous development has focused on cars, with most of its work shoehorned into Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

Waymo

For now, its testing is limited to a private test track in California, but later this year, Forbes reports it will expand those efforts to on-road testing in Arizona. The company is currently developing its kit on a Peterbilt semi, and when the testing heads to public roads, there will be a test driver behind the wheel at all times.

Waymo, a spinoff of Google's parent company Alphabet, has few major competitors in this industry. Its biggest rival is Uber, a company with which it's locked in a legal battle over allegedly stolen trade secrets. Uber purchased Otto, an autonomous-truck development company founded by ex-Google engineer Anthony Levandowski, in 2016. Levandowski is at the center of the lawsuit, as Waymo alleges that Levandowski stole secrets on Google's autonomous efforts before leaving to found Otto. Otto's systems helped contribute to the first delivery from a self-driving truck -- which, of course, was beer.

Tesla is working on its own semi truck as well, which will likely carry some of the same semiautonomous capabilities as its cars. But developing an entire semi from the ground up is an effort that takes much longer than retrofitting existing vehicles with new tech, which is what both Waymo and Otto are attempting to do.

While this might cause concern for the millions of truckers out there, it's not time to freak out just yet. Reuters reports that Waymo's efforts will focus on long hauls, with drivers taking care of local deliveries and pickups. Waymo also told Forbes that autonomous trucks can help fill the industry's personnel shortages -- right now, there are about 50,000 seats that need filling, according to data from the American Trucking Association.