Aurora, an autonomous tech developer that intends to offer a commercial driverless semi-truck service starting in 2023, is teaming up with freight carrier US Xpress to study the best ways to find commercial applications for the technology as shippers contend with a driver shortage and supply -chain snags.
As part of the collaboration Aurora will gather data from Variant, US Xpress’ digital platform, to study where and on what types of routes its AI-enabled driving system could be most effectively. They’ll also look for ways to integrate application programming interface, or API, data into the Variant platform to improve dispatching and dynamic routing of trucks when Aurora Horizon, the company’s commercial service, launches.
Robotic trucking appears closer to becoming a reality, “which is why we’re collaborating now to assure we’re first to market with autonomous trucks,” Eric Fuller, US Xpress’ CEO and president said in a statement. “Professional truck drivers will always have a place with our company, while autonomous trucks will supplement and help provide much-needed capacity to the supply chain.”
Delays in moving goods in and out of ports sparked by the pandemic exacerbated a shortage of long-haul truck drivers that the American Trucking Associations estimated at 80,000 drivers last year. In recent weeks, auto production in the US Midwest was also impacted due to protests by Canadian truck drivers objecting to Covid-19 vaccination rules that disrupted parts shipments. While there was already strong interest in the potential for autonomous trucks to haul loads on US highways starting within a few years, the recent supply-chain headaches may help hasten its introduction–assuming the technology is proven to be safe and reliable.
“US Xpress not only shares our commitment to safety, efficiency and realizing the benefits of technology for good, but has leaned into it in a big way,” said Sterling Anderson, Aurora’s cofounder and chief product officer.
The companies aren’t providing any financial terms of the collaboration.
Aurora previously said it’s also working with Uber Freight and FedEx, and truckmakers Paccar and Volvo. The Aurora Horizon commercial service it’s developing includes the Aurora Driver technology, comprising software, sensors and computers, dispatching and vehicle-monitoring software and a maintenance and roadside-assistance system.
Aurora shares fell 4% to $5.08 in Nasdaq trading on Monday, while US Xpress rose 1.4% to $3.58.