But they won't replace human drivers.
Volvo Autonomous Solutions (VAS) and Uber Freight have announced a new long-term partnership. Volvo's autonomous transport solutions will be deployed on Uber Freight's marketplace. In case you're not clued up with this particular Uber venture, it's just like the ride-hailing service you know, but with trucks that handle industrial-scale deliveries. It offers permanent solutions and extra capacity over busy seasons like the festive season.
The companies will work together to offer autonomous freight capacity on select routes, starting in Texas. Volvo and Uber have a long-standing relationship. When Uber needed vehicles to build its self-driving technology, it chose the Volvo XC90 as the basis.
This new venture represents two powerhouses coming together, each contributing what they're good at. Volvo will supply autonomous trucks, while Uber Freight contributes to its existing logistics platform.
Volvo says that "shippers will be able to gain access to autonomous freight capacity on selected routes in Texas and beyond as VAS continues to expand its network."
The idea is not to replace humans. Both companies believe in a future where autonomous and manually driven trucks can work side-by-side to haul goods using a hub-to-hub model. Autonomous trucks will take care of long journeys, while human drivers complete drayage (first mile) operations. We've recently seen an uptick in electric vans capable of handling last-mile delivery operations, but long-haul electric trucks remain a contentious issue.
"The VAS and Uber Freight partnership is an exciting one," commented Nils Jaeger, President of Volvo Autonomous Solutions. "By integrating our autonomous transport solution with Uber Freight's expansive network, we are offering shippers the possibility to move goods more efficiently while addressing some of the biggest challenges of the industry - transit times, empty miles, and a shortage of drivers."
"By integrating our autonomous transport solution with Uber Freight's marketplace, we have the possibility to learn about customer needs and build a solution that benefits the entire industry [...] at a time when the industry faces unprecedented challenges and needs it the most," added Sasko Cuklev, Head of On-Road Solutions at VAS.
This isn't the only project that Uber Freight is involved in. Olivia Hu, Uber Freight's head of autonomous and electric vehicles, told Transport Topics that Aurora and Waymo are also running pilots on Uber's platform. "In essence, Aurora and Waymo will be pure technology, driver-as-a-service in the long-term, whereas VAS will be transportation-as-a-service in the long term."