Waymo Is Exploring Self-Driving Trucks to Rival Uber

As it continues battling Uber in court, Waymo is considering a rival to ride-sharing company's self-driving truck program.

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Waymo is now looking into self-driving commercial trucks similar to the ones being developed by autonomous-driving rival Uber, according to BuzzFeedNews.

"We're taking our eight years of experience in building self-driving hardware and software and conducting a technical exploration into how our technology can integrate into a truck," a Waymo spokesperson told BuzzFeed. The former Google self-driving car project also confirmed that it is testing a single semi truck on public roads, but that the truck is driven manually, and the tests are only a data-collection exercise.

Uber has been involved in self-driving trucks since it purchased startup Otto last year. Otto and its co-founder, Anthony Levandowski, are at the center of a legal battle between Waymo and Uber. Waymo filed a lawsuit in February accusing Uber of using trade secrets stolen by Levandowski while he was a Waymo employee.

Waymo claims Levandowski downloaded 14,000 files before leaving, used that information to start Otto, and then brought it to Uber, where he was given a prominent position in the company's self-driving car program. Levandowski pleaded the Fifth Amendment in the case, and was shifted away from direct involvement in the self-driving car program before being fired altogether.

Lawsuit aside, Waymo is cultivating a fierce rivalry with Uber. The company recently announced an alliance with Lyft that could commercialize autonomous ride sharing, which has been Uber's long-time goal. The self-driving truck project presents another avenue for Waymo to attack Uber, assuming self-driving trucks ever take off.

California is currently the center of autonomous-car testing, but it doesn't allow testing of autonomous vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds on public roads. That presents a major roadblock to Silicon Valley tech companies looking to test autonomous trucks in their backyard.

Autonomous trucks also face the same regulatory questions as autonomous cars, but will likely face even stiffer opposition in the form of truck drivers afraid of losing their jobs. A recent Goldman Sachs report found that self-driving cars and trucks could cost 300,000 U.S. jobs a year in the trucking, taxi, and bus industries, so it's not as if those fears are unfounded.

However, the combined lobbying power of tech companies looking for a new outlet for their technology and businesses looking to cut transportation costs could very well steamroll the concerns of labor...not to mention average drivers who might be uneasy about sharing the road with several tons of driverless semi.