Volvo, Aurora Pair for Autonomous Trucking Service

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Volvo Group will partner with Aurora Innovation Inc. to develop and commercialize autonomous Class 8 trucks in North America.

Working through its Volvo Autonomous Solutions unit, Volvo plans to use its trucks equipped with Aurora self-driving technology to offer autonomous hub-to-hub trucking as a service. The truck manufacturer in a March 30 release said that the long-term partnership will span several years and “center on the integration of the ‘Aurora Driver’ technology into Volvo’s on-highway trucks,” referencing the name of the tech company’s automation system.

In the hub-to-hub service, a load would be manually driven near a major highway. Volvo would then ship it autonomously along highways to a second hub, where it would then be manually driven to the destination.

“Our first commercial truck with Volvo will be adapted to the requirements of the Aurora Driver, and tailored to the demands of an autonomous hub-to-hub use case,” said Sterling Anderson, co-founder and chief product officer at Aurora. “These trucks will combine the best of Volvo’s technology with the Aurora Driver, which uniquely has the ability to detect and track objects beyond 300 meters, into a compelling and scalable logistics platform.”

Volvo’s services will range from transport logistics to operational support, servicing and maintenance and cloud support for dispatching and routing, according to a blog by Anderson. An Aurora spokesperson said the eventual goal would be to offer depot-to-depot self-driving transport as autonomous technology develops to handle urban traffic complexities.

“This exciting partnership brings our goal of transport as a service an important step closer and will accelerate our commercial offer for hub-to-hub applications in North America,” Nils Jaeger, president of Volvo Autonomous Solutions, said in a statement.

“Creating a viable autonomous on-highway offering requires close partnerships with both customers and tech partners to develop the needed capabilities,” he said.

Getting into the hauling business builds on pilot programs Volvo has launched globally. For example, at the Brønnøy Kalk mine in Norway, autonomous Volvo FH trucks transport limestone along a 3.5-mile stretch to a nearby port. Volvo gets paid by the load. Elsewhere, Volvo is developing its Vera autonomous tractor to move containers from a logistics center in Gothenburg, Sweden, to a nearby port.

Aurora, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based company, is partnering with several truck manufacturers and automakers to develop and commercialize self-driving technology.

Paccar Inc. said in January that it signed Aurora as its technology partner to help develop and sell self-driving models of Peterbilt 579 and Kenworth T680 trucks. Paccar will supply the vehicles, while Aurora will provide its self-driving technology, including hardware, software and operational services.

Aurora said its partnership with Paccar will continue in parallel to the collaboration with Volvo.

The self-driving tech company also has a partnership with Toyota Motor Corp. to produce autonomous vehicles for ride-hailing networks. Chris Urmson, Aurora’s co-founder and CEO, told Transport Topics that he sees the best and quickest business case for autonomous technology in commercial applications such as trucking and ride-hailing rather than the consumer automotive market. Urmson led the Google self-driving car team before launching Aurora.

The Aurora-Volvo announcement shows how the autonomous vehicle technology business is developing, said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Guidehouse Insights.

Companies are pairing up, and like in other parts of the auto business, it is not unusual for manufacturers to work with multiple partners, he said.

“Autonomous technology is not yet sufficiently mature for anybody to commit to a particular path. Everyone is hedging their bets with parallel paths,” Abuelsamid said.

Daimler Trucks, which owns the Freightliner and Western Star brands, is developing its self-driving technology through its Torc Robotics subsidiary. And at the same time, it has an agreement to build Freightliner Cascadia models using Waymo’s autonomous driving technology. It also is investing in Luminar Technologies Inc., a laser-sensor startup developing self-driving hardware.

“Look at it from the perspective of the OEMs,” Abuelsamid said. “They don’t want to lock anybody out while the tech is evolving rapidly.”

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