Waymo ups ante on rival Uber in self-driving truck game

Waymo, the name of Google's self driving vehicle company, is now testing autonomous trucks in Atlanta.

SAN FRANCISCO — Waymo vs Uber. It's not quite Ali vs Frazier or Federer vs Nadal, but in the tech world it's a blood feud worth watching.

The latest installment, coming on the heels of a settled lawsuit between the two tech giants, involves self-driving truck testing.

On Monday, Uber announced that it was hauling freight across Arizona in its self-driving trucks. On Friday, Waymo said it was starting to test self-driving trucks on highways and city streets around Atlanta.

In a blog post on Medium, Waymo noted that in addition to its long-running self-driving car pilot program now operating in Phoenix, the company was stepping up its testing of semi-tractor trailer cabs loaded with autonomous vehicle sensors.

"Over the past year, we’ve been conducting road tests of Waymo’s self-driving trucks in California and Arizona," the post said.

"Our software is learning to drive big rigs in much the same way a human driver would after years of driving passenger cars. The principles are the same, but things like braking, turning, and blind spots are different with a fully-loaded truck and trailer."

Specifically, Waymo will begin operating self-driving trucks in the Atlanta area. The trucks will be hauling goods and equipment destined for Google's data centers in the area.

Uber has been using its self-driving trucks to transport goods in Arizona.

Notably, the trucks — which like Waymo's feature a safety driver in the driver's seat to monitor the action — will be navigating not only highway portions of the ride but also will tackle the more complex task of threading a giant tractor trailer through city streets.

Uber's program is focused on developing self-driving trucks for highway-only portions of trips, using a hub and spoke system that would find human truckers picking up loads at weigh stations just off the highway and transporting the goods to their final destinations.

Trucking represents a significant business opportunity for the half-dozen large and small tech companies pushing into the space. The $700 billion annual business is facing a shortage of drivers due to high industry turnover rates, and drivers are limited in terms of how many consecutive hours they can spend behind the wheel.

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