Alliance forms for driverless transport

JB Hunt Transport Services Inc. has entered into a long-term partnership with Waymo Via to advance the use of driverless vehicles for freight transportation.

The Lowell-based carrier said Friday the collaboration is the next step to bring self-driving technology to its operations and customers and to deliver driverless transportation in Texas within the next few years.

Craig Harper, chief sustainability officer and executive vice president of JB Hunt, said in a written statement that testing over the past year has helped solidify how Waymo’s technology can be used in JB Hunt’s operations. .

“This strategic alliance will continue that momentum,” Harper said.

As the industry grapples with a growing driver shortage and demand for faster delivery times, trucking and logistics companies are exploring technological innovations, such as electric and self-driving vehicles, for potential solutions.

As part of the renewed partnership, JB Hunt said it will conduct several pilot projects and examine the operational capability of Waymo Via, the company’s Class 8 self-driving truck, to meet customer needs in realistic scenarios.

The companies completed their first trials last year moving cargo along Interstate 45 in Texas for one of JB Hunt’s customers. The next tests should take place on the same course.

The pair also agreed to work on ways to merge self-driving technology with JB Hunt 360, the company’s technology platform. Additionally, they plan to work on operational and market studies to refine the market readiness of the driving technology.

Charlie Jatt, Trucking Marketing Manager at Waymo, said in prepared remarks that working with JB Hunt has been incredibly successful.

“This strategic alliance … paves the way for us to both help grow the foundation for successful deployment and capitalize on the benefits of self-driving technology,” Jatt said.

Technology has the potential to improve efficiency across the enterprise, including significant cost savings. According to McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, this can reduce costs by around 45%, saving the industry between $85 billion and $125 billion.

But none of that matters if the technology isn’t secure. Waymo, formerly Google’s self-driving car project, has made safety a top priority, saying most of its incidents involving self-driving test vehicles have been extremely minor or at low speeds.

Media reported last month that a Waymo self-driving vehicle that struck a pedestrian in San Francisco was being driven by a human driver at the time of the incident.

In a safety report, Waymo released 6.1 million miles of driving data in Arizona, where it is testing driverless taxis. The data, which spans from 2019 to 2020, shows there were 18 accidents and 29 near misses.

JB Hunt’s trials last year were overseen by Waymo specialists with a commercial driver and software technician on board to monitor every aspect of the journeys.

Shares of JB Hunt fell 1%, or $2.12, to close Friday at $202.07 on the Nasdaq stock exchange.