Changing lanes

Source: Waymo

Last year, Uber began testing  self-driving technology in Arizona, rolling out its autonomous Volvo SUVs on the streets for app users to try, sometimes for free. A recent accident led Uber to suspend its self-driving technology testing in the state, although Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is aiming to bring testing back to all streets by this summer.

Some speculated the incident would be a major setback for the emerging industry, but companies such as Waymo and TuSimple are expanding their presence in the desert.

Last month, Waymo announced it would expand the number of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in their fleet starting in late 2018. An additional 62,000 minivans builds upon a previous commitment, announced in January, to deliver thousands of vehicles to Waymo’s driverless transportation service. The increased fleet will add to their current operation in the Phoenix metro area.

“The Valley’s distinct desert conditions are helping Waymo build the world’s most experienced driver, but it’s also the support from Valley residents, especially those in our early rider program, that is preparing us to launch the world’s first self-driving transportation service later this year,” according to a Waymo spokesperson.

TuSimple is another California-based tech startup that operates in Arizona. The self-driving tech company focuses on developing autonomous systems for the commercial trucking industry. They’re not the only ones eyeing commercial trucking. Recently Tesla and UPS announced their partnership to work on self-driving shipping, and Uber is also testing the waters of self-driving commercial trucks.

Robert Brown, director of public affairs at TuSimple, sees a bright future for the state and the technology.

“We’re not just out there driving for driving’s sake. It’s purpose-based testing,” says Brown of the current testing being done on Highway 10 between Tucson and Phoenix. “We’re working with the ADOT and DPS, and setting up dialogue with local law enforcement to make sure we’re transparent. Once we’re at a point where we like it, we would like to offer this to the public and plan ahead. Our approach has been very open and transparent.”

TuSimple is part of a short list of autonomous commercial truck companies and is hoping to change the image of the technology. While passenger self-driving technology is in its own haze right now, commercial trucking just may be the way for the general public to get back on board.

Nick Esquer

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