Waymo and Google launch self-driving truck pilot project in Atlanta.

The next time you’re out on a long, boring drive along a US highway, here’s a fun little game you can play: peek into the windows of any 18-wheelers nearby and see if there’s someone driving them or not. Depending on where your travels take you, there’s a good chance that you’ll encounter a self-driving truck along the way.

Waymo, a division of Google that has been focused on the autonomous vehicle race, will begin maneuvering its freight trucks through the city of Atlanta in the near future. Atlanta is an ideal test market due to ridiculous but not-over-the-top traffic congestion and multiple interstates converging, but also because Google’s data center is headquartered there. 

Waymo and Google launch self-driving truck pilot project in Atlanta.

Waymo and Google launch self-driving truck pilot project in Atlanta.

Safety net

The vehicles, which will still have a human driver seated at the controls, will only be serving Google facilities and not taking on third-party contracts at this time. According to Darrell Etherington for TechCrunch, “The work being done with Google’s logistics team means that it can also plug into an existing system for allocating loads, connecting shippers, factories, distribution centres, ports and more to have them ready to slot into the existing freight shipping ecosystem when fully ready. The trucks themselves will of course have trained safety drivers at the wheel as they roll down Georgia highways to monitor and assume control”.

Uber, Embark, Tesla

Other companies, of course, have been working in this direction. Companies like Uber and Embark have completed their own self-driving truck tests in other parts of the country. Perhaps no company in this space is more highly anticipated than Tesla, though, whose unveiled autonomous 18-wheelers aren’t controlled or contracted through their own shipping operation. Rather, Tesla has simply designed a far more efficient “assisted” vehicle that can make the necessary long haul trips while running on electricity. For now, Tesla’s major announcement was in the electric and efficiency features of the vehicles, although the self-driving capability has been included.