Waymo, J.B. Hunt test robo-trucks in Texas

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A Waymo employee hails a ride on their phone during a demonstration in Chandler, Arizona, November 29, 2018. REUTERS/Caitlin O’Hara

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DETROIT, June 10 (Reuters) - U.S. truck fleet operator J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc (JBHT.O) and autonomous vehicle technology company Waymo will test human-supervised, self-driving trucks to deliver cargo between Houston and Fort Worth, Texas, expanding an existing relationship.

The test comes as trucking companies are scrambling to find drivers, and experimenting with automated driving technology as a way to eventually reduce the need for human operators.

Waymo, a unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O), said on Thursday its Waymo Via trucking operation will provide J.B. Hunt trucks equipped with its automated driving systems to haul loads along Interstate 45 between Houston and Fort Worth. The trucks will be able to drive themselves on the freeway, but they will have a licensed driver and a software technician on board, the companies said.

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The test will have a limited duration.

J.B. Hunt said in a statement the test will give the freight hauling company data on how automated trucks could operate on its network.

“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,” Craig Harper, chief sustainability officer and executive vice president at J.B. Hunt, said in a statement.

Automated driving technology for passenger vehicles and commercial trucks has been under development by Waymo and other companies for more than a decade. So far, companies have not launched large-scale, commercial deployment in the United States of either robo-taxi or robo-freight services.

Union leaders have taken aim at the prospect of self-driving trucks, warning lawmakers in Washington that thousands of jobs could be lost if they allow truck fleets to replace drivers with software-driven robots. read more

Waymo and J.B. Hunt already have been working together on planning for automated truck fleets, the companies said. The trial runs in Texas are aimed at developing a long-term plan for collaboration, the companies said.

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Reporting by Joe White in Detroit Editing by Matthew Lewis

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