September 23, 2023

Waabi signs 10-year autonomous trucking pact with Uber Freight


The contraction of autonomous trucking developers is leaving openings for new players like Waabi Innovation Inc., which has signed a 10-year deal to haul cargo on the Uber Freight network.

Toronto-based Waabi was founded in June 2021 by Raquel Urtasun. She formerly ran the Canadian office of Uber’s Autonomous Technology Group that was sold to Aurora Innovation in 2020. Waabi raised $83.5 million with investments from Aurora and Uber in a round led by Khosla Ventures in 2021. Volvo Group Venture Capital invested an undisclosed amount in January.

Though long acquainted with Uber Freight founder and CEO Lior Ron, Urtasun said her past work at Uber played no role in the deal that catapults her company into the mix of contenders seeking to eventually replace some human drivers with robots.

Waabi uses advanced machine learning — generative AI — to train its system on data from simulation testing and the real world. Its models can generalize its learnings to all the situations it might encounter on the road, including those unseen before. Its Waabi World closed-loop simulator bypasses manual code adjustments.

Billions of miles planned

The two companies intend to deploy billions of miles of Waabi Driver capacity alongside carrier partners on the Uber Freight network during the next decade.

Pairing the Waabi Driver with Uber Freight’s logistics platform could accelerate autonomous trucks at scale by pairing driver-as-a-service robotics with digital brokerage services. By hauling revenue loads on Interstate 45 between Dallas and Houston beginning this week, Waabi skipped several steps taken by other autonomous trucking developers.

For example, Waabi has no transfer hubs where autonomous trucks land for drop-and-hook operations at the end of a middle-mile run and are prepped for launching on their next trip. Instead, Uber Freight sends Waabi loads directly to shipper distribution centers guided by human safety drivers. 

“You build your volume and lane density, then Waabi builds those transfer hubs,” Ron told FreightWaves. Uber Freight is making its hubs and maintenance services available to Waabi trucks for now.

A few autonomous trucks in the beginning

Waabi is starting with “a handful” of Peterbilt Model 579 trucks equipped with its sensors, lidars, cameras and radars. Safety monitors will be part of Waabi operations for the foreseeable future.

“Success is when we have that scaling into many carriers with Waabi Driver on the Uber Freight network,” Urtasun told FreightWaves. She declined to say how many initial runs per week Waabi would handle for Uber Freight.

The decadelong duration of the collaboration allows Waabi to grow its involvement with Uber Freight, which has $18 billion of freight under contract. The Uber Freight app is available to about 2 million truck drivers in the U.S.

Uber Freight partners with Aurora on autonomous runs on the same I-45 lane in Texas. It also had pilot operations with Waymo Via, which has mothballed its trucking efforts to concentrate on ride-hailing operations.

‘Strategic partnership … not a one-off’

“This is a strategic partnership for the long run, not a one-off,” Ron said of Waabi. “Shippers [are] eager to deploy AV capacity. We have literally hundreds of shippers on the waiting list wanting to activate autonomous capacity on the network because they understand the inherent benefits of efficiency, sustainability [and] safety.”

Adding autonomous capabilities bolsters Uber Freight’s bundled services offerings. Selecting autonomous capacity becomes a push of a button. Reaching the full potential of autonomous trucking hinges on integrating it into a scaled freight network that can make the most of load matching, combined shipments and hub-to-hub operations. That includes onboarding, load booking and execution, trailer hand-offs, payments, and asset maintenance.

“[Shippers] want to experiment with that technology today,” Ron said. “They want to scale that technology today. We’re putting the capacity in place to help them achieve that.”

Waabi founder: AI-based self-driving technology ‘will change the world as we know it’

Uber Freight may be on the way to stand-alone company

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

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