J.B. Hunt collaborates with Waymo to move freight autonomously in Texas

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 818 views 

Lowell-based carrier J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. announced Thursday (June 10) it is working with autonomous technology developer Waymo to autonomously move freight in Texas for one of J.B. Hunt’s customers.

The test run will use Waymo Via, the company’s autonomous Class 8 truck powered by Waymo Driver, to haul freight between facilities in Houston and Fort Worth, Texas. The haul along Interstate 45 will be completed using Level 4 autonomous driving technology supervised by Waymo autonomous specialists, a commercially licensed driver and a software technician, onboard to monitor Waymo Driver’s operations throughout the runs, according to a news release. Class 8 trucks are the largest truck class, and Level 4 autonomous driving technology can perform all driving functions under certain conditions, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers. Like with Level 5 autonomous driving technology, the highest autonomy level, a driver may have the option to control the vehicle.

According to J.B. Hunt, the project will be a limited trial involving multiple test runs. The route is about 250 miles one-way.

“This will be one of the first opportunities for J.B. Hunt to receive data and feedback on customer freight moved with a Class 8 tractor operating at this level of autonomy,” said Craig Harper, chief sustainability officer and executive vice president at J.B. Hunt. “While we believe there will be a need for highly skilled, professional drivers for many years to come, it is important for J.B. Hunt as an industry leader to be involved early in the development of advanced autonomous technologies and driving systems to ensure that their implementation will improve efficiency while enhancing safety.”

Through the collaboration, J.B. Hunt and Waymo Via will determine how autonomous driving technology can be integrated across fleets and improve safety and efficiency. The two have worked on operational and market studies focused on best practices for regular maintenance, the future of facility layouts and which lanes are best for autonomous driving technology. The trial run also will help J.B. Hunt and Waymo on how they will work together long-term.

“We’re thrilled to collaborate with J.B. Hunt as we advance and commercialize the Waymo Driver,” said Charlie Jatt, head of commercialization for trucking at Waymo. “Our teams share an innovative and safety-first mindset as well as a deep appreciation for the potential benefits of autonomous driving technology in trucking. It’s companies and relationships like these that will make this technology a commercial reality in the coming years.”

With more than a decade of experience in building autonomous driving technology, Waymo began as the Google self-driving car project in 2009. Waymo technology has been driven over 20 million miles on public roads across 10 states and 20 billion miles in simulation, according to the release.

Shares of J.B. Hunt (NASDAQ: JBHT) closed Wednesday (June 9) at $165.58 and were trading Thursday at $164.10, down $1.48, or 0.89%. In the past 52 weeks, the stock has ranged between $183.80 and $110.29.