Arizona's typically dry climate and, at times, predictable traffic patterns are key reasons autonomous vehicle companies are testing their tech on our roads. That same technology applied to semi-trucks is starting to now expand here, as well.
Virtually everything — from infrastructure to goods delivered to your door — got to where it needed to be on a truck with someone driving long hours to get it there.
Finding drivers to safely transport products is just one challenge on a laundry list the trucking industry has faced recently.
”We’ve got an industry that has an average of 55 years old as a driver. New people don’t want to come into driving even though they can make $100,000 a year with a college education," said Tony Bradley, the president and CEO of the Arizona Trucking Association.
Over the holidays last year, the autonomous driving tech company TuSimple successfully made the 80-mile trip from Tucson to Phoenix with no one behind the wheel.
Google’s spin-off company, Waymo Via, has wheels on the ground in several Southwest states. Their autonomous trucks typically have someone behind the wheel, just in case. John Verdon is a lead for that department.
The hardware mounted on Waymo Via trucks and software inside is programmed to answer four questions: Where Am I? What’s around me? What will happen next? What should I do? So when one of their trucks encounters police activity on the road shoulder, it moves to the left lane, then back.
"The last couple of years really put a spotlight on supply chain challenges, one of those notably has been a supply chain challenges, that’s definitely an area our technology can help out."
The Arizona Trucking Association saids some of the tech you see on these autonomous trucks are already on everyday fleets like adaptive cruise control and forward assisting brakes.
Autonomous technology is something today’s truckers embrace, especially if it can help reduce driver-error crashes.
But Bradley says driverless trucks are a revolutionary technology changing the industry at an evolutionary pace — meaning those changes won’t be turn-key quick.
"At the end of the day, it’s still an infant. They’re teaching a computer how to drive. There’s a lot of great things coming out of autonomous trucks, autonomous vehicles."
Still, many think the driverless industry is a long way off.
As more autonomous trucks maneuver Arizona roads in the future, companies like Waymo are working to build confidence that when you eventually see a semi without a driver, you’ll feel safe.
This article was written by Jordan Bontke for KNXV.