Waymo and Daimler are teaming up to build fully driverless semi trucks

Waymo and Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, announced that they are forming a “broad, global, strategic partnership” to deploy fully driverless trucks. Daimler will integrate Waymo’s autonomous driving technology, widely considered to be among the best in the world, into its fleet of heavy-duty Freightliner Cascadia semi-trailer trucks.

Both Waymo and Daimler were independently working on self-driving trucks until coming together to form this partnership. Waymo had purchased a small fleet of Peterbilt trucks, which it has retrofitted with autonomous driving sensors and software. It currently is testing those trucks in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

Meanwhile, Daimler announced it was working on its own self-driving big rig in 2015 when it showed off a working prototype called the Freightliner Inspiration Truck. The automaker went big, debuting the truck on the Hoover Dam and offering test rides at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. At the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, Daimler showed off a production version of that prototype truck.

There’s been a flurry of partnerships and other corporate deals in recent months in the nascent driverless trucking industry, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic casts doubt on the long-term viability of using autonomous vehicles for ride-sharing. In addition to established players like Daimler, newcomers like TuSimple, Ike, Embark, and Plus.ai are also working toward a fully driverless truck.

But there have been potholes along the way. Uber abandoned its self-driving truck plans after one of its autonomous test vehicles killed a pedestrian in Arizona, and self-driving truck startup Starsky Robotics recently went out of business after a failed round of funding.

A Daimler spokesperson offered more details about what the company’s partnership with Waymo will entail:

Daimler Trucks is developing a customized Freightliner Cascadia truck chassis with redundant systems for Waymo, setting the industry standard in reliability and safety. This chassis will enable the integration of the Waymo Driver with its custom, scalable combination of hardware, software, and compute.

The companies say the goal is to deploy “SAE L4 trucks,” a reference to the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) taxonomy for autonomous vehicles, commonly referred to as the SAE levels, which have become the global standard for defining self-driving. Level 4, or L4, vehicles can operate without a human driver behind the wheel but only within a specific geographic location, on a certain type of roadway, or under specific conditions, like good weather. Waymo has some Level 4 vehicles in operation outside of Phoenix, Arizona.

But the deal between Waymo and Daimler won’t be exclusive. Daimler is the fifth automaker to commit to integrating Waymo’s AV technology in its vehicles. The Alphabet subsidiary also has preexisting agreements with Nissan-Renault, Fiat Chrysler, Jaguar Land Rover, and Volvo. Daimler’s trucking division also has its own self-driving subsidiary, Torc Robotics, that is working to integrate its technology into the Cascadia’s line of trucks.

“Daimler Trucks’ and Torc’s integrated self-driving product will be designed for on-highway hub-to-hub applications, especially for long-distance, monotonous transport between distribution centers,” the Daimler spokesperson said.