Whether it’s the self-driving semis from the movie “I, Robot” or the autonomous Johnny Cab taxi from the Schwarzenegger flick “Total Recall,” the long-teased promise of driverless technology has always been out of reach. If Aurora Innovation has anything to do with it, the future may finally be here. It has recently partnered with trucking company Schneider National to develop a pilot program for providing autonomous freight hauling for Schneider’s customers.
Utilizing Aurora Driver, Aurora’s self-driving technology, the pilot program promises to ease driver shortages, eliminate slow deliveries, and put an end to supply chain bottlenecks. Using sensors that perceive road conditions, other vehicles, and the general spatial state around the truck, integrated software then plans a safe path through the conditions. Onboard computers integrate that data and then use it to operate the vehicle along the roadway. Aurora Driver is designed to adapt to a variety of vehicle types and use cases, allowing Aurora to deliver the benefits of self-driving across several industries, including long-haul trucking and local material delivery.
It’s a future that trucking companies would greatly like to see come to fruition, and one that could be poised to greatly aid the LBM industry as a whole as it strives to de- liver expected levels of customer service while facing un- precedented labor shortages. “Understanding more about an autonomous future is the logical next step to build a network that continues to deliver the best service for our customers,” said Rob Reich, executive vice president and chief administrative officer at Schneider.
According to Aurora, autonomous trucking has the potential to bring a wealth of benefits to industries like LBM manufacturers and dealers.
–Because they never tire or become distracted, self-driving trucks can reduce crashes and save lives.
–The technology will enable fleet owners to transform their operations with autonomous drivers—filling the driver gap they struggle with today—and scaling with the increased business they can fulfill tomorrow.
–Self-driving semis don’t need breaks. With no hours of service limitations, autonomous trucks can operate nearly 24/7.
–Self-driving trucks have the potential to increase fuel efficiency by up to 10%, leading to cost savings and decreased carbon dioxide emissions.
The partnership with Schneider—Aurora’s fourth commercial pilot program—enables one of the industry’s largest carriers to play a crucial role in testing and validating Aurora’s product and service. “Schneider has a reputation for delivering consistent and reliable service, evidenced by the sheer number of Fortune 500 customers,” says Sterling Anderson, Aurora’s co-founder and chief product officer. “Preparing Aurora Horizon for prime-time with Schneider springloads our ability to deploy our product at scale in the years to come.”
In addition to the partnership with Schneider, Aurora has also piloted with FedEx, autonomously hauling FedEx loads daily between Aurora’s Dallas and Houston terminals, and weekly between its terminals in Fort Worth and El Paso. According to Aurora, in Q2 it delivered over 335 loads by driving over 80,000 cumulative miles, with 100% on-time performance and with no cancellations.
For the rest of 2022 and into the first quarter of 2023, Aurora will continue to focus on releasing additional self-driving capabilities so that the company can soon begin transportation of commercial loads on the company’s initial commercial routes.
The pilot program is part of a larger initiative the company calls Aurora Horizon, a subscription-based autonomous “driver-as-a-service” designed for carriers and fleet owners. According to Aurora, Aurora Horizon is built to supplement driver supply, so carriers and fleet owners can utilize the full potential of their fleets and scale their business for increasing demand thanks to:
AUTONOMY AT SCALE: The Aurora Driver learns from every load it hauls autonomously. As the scale of pilot programs increases, so does the Aurora Driver’s experience.
VEHICLE READINESS: Weekly hauls allow Aurora to test the durability of its next-generation trucks.