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Volvo autonomous trucks will carry Uber Freight.

Volvo, Uber Partner on Autonomous Trucks in Texas

Investments in fully autonomous driving for passenger cars have cooled, but they go forward on heavy trucks.

Volvo Autonomous Solutions (V.A.S.) and Uber Freight announce a new partnership in which Volvo’s autonomous trucks will be deployed in Uber’s Freight Marketplace.

The agreement will begin with moving freight within Texas, but with an eye toward expanding into other states that have approved such pilot programs.

The promises of autonomous driving for passenger cars that have been held up as the future of driving for a decade have been dealt setbacks by highly publicized accidents, skepticism by regulators and the recent shutdown of Argo AI by Ford and Volkswagen, which had bankrolled the tech company. But there is still hope among commercial fleet companies to make the technology work reliably.

Uber’s Freight Marketplace operates similarly to the ride-hailing service, but with trucks that handle industrial freight deliveries. The two companies are working together to match Volvo’s trucks with freight needs of Uber subscribers on select routes starting in Texas.

“The V.A.S. and Uber Freight partnership is an exciting one,” says Nils Jaeger, president of Volvo Autonomous Solutions. “By integrating our autonomous transport solution with Uber Freight’s expansive network, we are offering shippers the possibility to move goods more efficiently while addressing some of the biggest challenges of the industry – transit times, empty miles and a shortage of drivers.” 

Executives at both companies say they envision a future where autonomous and manually driven trucks work together to transport goods safely and efficiently using a hub-to-hub model. Under this scenario, autonomous trucks will take on the long-haul portion of a given transport assignment while manually driven trucks complete local routes. Hub-to-hub will also ease some of the burden of increasing demand for freight transport while enabling drivers to shift into short-haul jobs closer to home.

The partnership with V.A.S. initiates Uber Freight’s first commercial collaboration with an autonomous fleet.

The two companies have explored self-driving livery vehicles as far back as 2016. Volvo manufactured XC90 SUVs with steering and braking systems much like those in its human-driven models, but designed for computer control, with backup steering and braking. The Volvos were designed to allow Uber’s system to maneuver in defined urban situations.

Volvo is not the only company testing the moving of freight with driverless vehicles. Autonomous developer Torc Robotics, part of Daimler Truck, is testing driverless 18-wheelers through 2023. The company has partnered with trucking company Schneider National on a test program that will put Level 4 trucks on the road.

Driverless trucks also are being tested in Arkansas and Kansas in a pilot program involving autonomous tech developer Gatik and Walmart. The program uses small-box trucks equipped with self-driving technology to shuttle between Walmart warehouses and stores.

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