July 26, 2023

Waymo Via backs away from autonomous trucking


Alphabet Inc. is indefinitely delaying most work on by its Waymo Via autonomous trucking unit to focus efforts on robot-driven passenger cars for ride hailing. 

Waymo Via is the latest to head to the sidelines in a shrinking field of autonomous trucking developers.

Waymo’s future in autonomous trucking had been whispered about by competitors since the layoff of 12,000 employees in January. Waymo Via had been operating on a limited basis since March following operating but on a limited basis. 

A second round of layoffs of 137 employees in March brought total cuts for the year to 8% of its workforce, Reuters reported.

It is unknown how many jobs were affected by the latest move.

“A very limited number of roles solely focused on trucking were impacted,” a Waymo spokesperson said in an email Wednesday. “We were able to transition many individuals into other roles at the company that are a fit for their skill set.”

Relative newcomer to autonomous trucking

The trucking unit was added to Waymo’s self-driving car business in March 2020. Waymo in 2016 rebranded the Google self-driving car project that began in 2009. Waymo said its system sharing between surface street and highway autonomy helped advance both disciplines.

“Given the tremendous momentum and substantial commercial opportunity we’re seeing on the ride-hailing front, we’ve made the decision to focus our efforts and investment on ride-hailing,” Waymo co-CEOs Tekedra Mawakana and Dmitri Dolgov wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

“With our decision to focus on ride-hailing, we’ll push back the timeline on our commercial and operational efforts on trucking, as well as most of our technical development on that business unit.”

The timing of the announcement comes less than a week after rival Aurora Innovation (NASDAQ: AUR) raised $820 million in new funding with Uber as the largest purchaser of new Aurora stock. 

The failure of Embark Trucks in March and its sale in May and TuSimple’s June 28 decision to seek a possible sale of its U.S. operations leaves three remaining players in a once-crowded field: Aurora, Torc Robotics and Kodiak Robotics.

Waymo and Daimler will continue work on redundant chassis

Waymo said it would continue its commitment to work with Daimler Truck on a redundant chassis for the Waymo Driver system. Backups for steering, braking and other functions are critical in a truck with no driver to take over when a problem occurs.

“We continue to see a significant future commercial opportunity for our trucking solution alongside other commercial applications of the Waymo Driver,” Mawakana and Dolgov wrote.

Despite a lack of recent activity, Waymo continued to get support from Daimler Truck. CEO Martin Daum told FreightWaves last week that Waymo and Torc, which Daimler purchased in March 2019, were the best bets to lead in autonomous trucking. 

“We are well on our way to developing the redundant, autonomous-ready Freightliner Cascadia as a platform for various virtual driver systems,” a Daimler spokesperson told FreightWaves in an email Wednesday. 

“Over the years, we’ve consistently emphasized that autonomous truck development is not a race, but a marathon, and we respect Waymo’s decision to adjust its own timeline. As they shift their focus to ride hailing, we continue to work with our strategic partner Waymo to advance the technical development of the autonomous truck platform.”

Editor’s Note: Updates with Waymo spokesperson’s comment.

How much do Waymo Via’s autonomous trucks benefit from driverless cars?

Daimler, Waymo joining forces to build autonomous Freightliner Cascadia

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.



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