- Waymo announced in a blog post that this week it will launch a pilot in Atlanta for self-driving big-rig trucks.
- The autonomous trucks will carry freight to Google's data centers. "Atlanta is one of the biggest logistics hubs in the country, making it a natural home for Google's logistical operations and the perfect environment for our next phase of testing," the company said in its blog.
- Trained drivers will be in the cabs during the tests to monitor operations and take control if necessary.
Waymo put a fleet of autonomous vehicles (AVs) on the roads in Phoenix last fall to test how they would carry humans. The company also has been testing self-driving semi trucks in Arizona and California over the past year. Its goal has been to transport humans and goods with its emerging technology.
The top U.S. supply chain logistics hubs usually are metropolitan areas that are well connected to multiple freight corridors. That usually means not just access to multiple major highways, but also significant infrastructure for at least one other mode of cargo transport, such as a port or a major airport. Atlanta is well set up to get cargo to most of the country in two days or less via ground or air, joining the ranks of other top U.S. logistics hubs such as Chicago, New York, Dallas and Memphis.
When a city becomes known for being a logistics hub, companies that do a lot of shipping often make it a business hub. Last year Amazon started building a logistics center in Atlanta and in 2016, UPS — which is headquartered in Atlanta — expanded in that city to create the company's third-largest logistics hub, behind centers in Louisville, KY and Chicago.
Last week, Uber launched a pilot for self-driving cargo trucks in Arizona, where multiple companies have been doing AV tests. But Waymo's choice to station its autonomous truck pilot in Atlanta is a natural fit, given the city's favorable logistics conditions and the ability to test more real-life scenarios.
Although some in the trucking industry are worried about losing their jobs to automation, the companies carrying out pilot programs say that, at least in the short term, AVs will create more jobs because the tests are conducted with human drivers in the vehicle. Others point to the industry's well-known shortage of qualified truckers and say that self-driving trucks could eventually fill that void, rather than squeezing out existing truckers.