DALLAS — As traffic trundled by on nearby Interstate 45, Kendra Phillips stood on a gravel parking lot and sketched a practical piece of the autonomous trucking future.
Over here, the gates through which Aurora Innovation Inc.'s self-driving trucks might arrive after completing trips to Houston. Over there, scales for weighing trucks before they depart.
"We're putting everything exactly where we want it, and we're going to make sure this design we think works will really work," said Phillips, Aurora's vice president of service delivery.
She's laying out the blueprint for the company's 4-acre truck yard in Palmer, Texas, a south Dallas suburb, preparing it for an upcoming test involving many of Aurora's 30-plus trucks in the state, ensuring the company is ready for everyday operations.
Rather than haul freight directly from warehouse to warehouse, Aurora believes a first wave of autonomous trucks will primarily ply interstates and stop at designated truck ports or terminals, where human drivers can take over and drive goods on local roads.
Much like airplanes need airports to commercially function, Phillips said running a business predicated on self-driving systems requires proper layout of these terminals, yard oversight and frequently scheduled maintenance.
Working with Ryder
Along those lines, Aurora is collaborating with Ryder System Inc. to keep trucks ready for the road. Ryder technicians will work at Aurora's terminal to fix the company's Class 8 trucks and perform preventative maintenance and inspections, the companies said Monday.
For now, it's a pilot project.
Both companies anticipate it will grow to support operations at future terminals and at widespread scale. Aurora expects its self-driving technology to be "feature complete" by the end of the first quarter in 2023 and to start driverless commercial operations in 2024.