Google's autonomous car company is now testing out self-driving trucks

By Brett Williams

Waymo is taking its self-driving tech to an entirely new class of vehicles.

The autonomous car company, which famously spun off as an independent entity after years of development as the Google X self-driving car project, was recently spotted running tests on something other than its instantly recognizable fleet of Waymo-branded Chrysler Pacifica minivans: a truck.

A photo recently obtained by BuzzFeed News appears to show a Waymo truck, which company reps confirmed to be genuine. Until the image surfaced, Waymo was only thought to be developing its autonomous driving platform on its cars, Lexus SUVs, and minivans, which have been extensively promoted as it ramps up its efforts with a public self-driving program in Phoenix.

When reached for comment by Mashable via email, a Waymo rep shared the same statement given to BuzzFeed:

Self-driving technology can transport people and things much more safely than we do today and reduce the thousands of trucking-related deaths each year. We’re taking our eight years of experience in building self-driving hardware and software and conducting a technical exploration into how our technology can integrate into a truck.

Waymo is currently testing just one truck, reportedly a Class 8 Peterbilt, outfitted with the company's self-produced autonomous platform.

A company spokesperson confirmed to Mashable that the company is currently conducting tests on a private track at its facility in California, and that the truck has also made it out to public streets — with a human operator behind the wheel controlling it manually at all times — to collect the road data essential for the autonomous platform's development.

The Waymo rep also confirmed to us that the road testing efforts will be expanded to Arizona later this year.

Trucking and autonomy

The move to bigger vehicles isn't a shocker for Waymo — the company has made it clear that it's focused on more than just consumer transportation and has its sights on the future of mobility on the whole, through statements made by CEO John Krafcik and aggressive moves outside the direct consumer market, like its deal with Lyft.

Self-driving trucks could transform an entire industry. Autonomous vehicles could increase productivity and efficiency along freight routes, making the job easier for drivers — and they could fill the gap to combat the projected driver shortage facing the industry in the coming years. By using its autonomous platform on trucks, Waymo could play a big part in transforming American highways.

But it's far from the first player to enter the self-driving truck space. There are projects currently in the works from established companies like PACCAR, the manufacturer behind the Peterbilt brand, which is working with Nvidia, and smaller independent startups like Embark, which is testing its platform on Nevada highways. Perhaps the most notable project is the Uber-owned Otto, which successfully delivered an autonomous freight of beer last year.

Waymo's parent company, Alphabet, is in the midst of a contentious lawsuit with Uber that could stifle or even shutter Uber's own self-driving development efforts. The dispute stems from Otto's founder, Anthony Levandowski, a former Google (and now former Uber) employee accused of stealing company secrets and using them for Otto and then Uber.

Meanwhile, the only other company that comes close to matching Google's pedigree, Apple, has reportedly ramped up its own autonomous driving efforts of late, with its own self-driving test car recently spotted on California streets.