Machine learning gets semi conscious… Waymo, Daimler vow to bring self-driving trucks to American highways

Waymo has partnered with one of the world’s largest truck manufacturers to install its fully autonomous self-driving technology into semi-trailer trucks on American roads.

Daimler is the oldest name in German automotive engineering, and its US-based trucking arm Daimler Trucks said on Tuesday that it’s collaborating with Waymo on its Freightliner Cascadia line of big rigs. Last year, the Euro giant invested in Torc Robotics, a self-driving startup based in Virginia that’s more oriented towards the defense industry than Waymo is.

“In recent years, we have achieved significant progress on our global roadmap to bringing series-produced highly automated trucks to the road,” said Martin Daum, chairman of the board of management of Daimler Truck AG.

“With our strategic partnership with Waymo as the leader in autonomous driving, we are taking another important step towards that goal. This partnership complements Daimler Trucks’ dual strategy approach, of working with two strong partners to deliver autonomous L4 solutions that are seamlessly integrated with our best-in-class trucks, to our customers.”

The partnership aims to build level-four automated trucks, which would use AI to perform all the necessary functions needed to drive autonomously for a whole trip, theoretically. It’ll still need a human driver to take over when necessary, for safety and regulatory reasons.

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Neither company announced a strict deadline for when autonomous convoys of trucks expect to hit the roads. Waymo only said its self-driving software would be rolling out to US customers “in the coming years”.

“At Waymo, we’re developing a fully autonomous L4 stack, which means the Waymo Driver is responsible for the entire driving task at all times, with no human required in the loop,” a spokesperson told The Register.

“Our Driver-as-a-Service model will first be focused on highway driving and also handle driving on a limited amount of surface streets to depots, whether that’s an LTL terminal or warehouse or distribution center.” LTL stands for “less-than-truckload shipping” and describes small freight carriers that hold over 150lb (68kg) of goods.

The Alphabet-owned Google spin-off has entered into multiple partnerships with automakers, mostly dealing with smaller cars rather than trucks. It has been testing its self-driving software in trucks for a while, however. Waymo has been testing bulkier delivery trucks in highways across California, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico since 2017. ®

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