Hauling goods and freight has become a priority in a self-driving industry once predicated upon carrying passengers in robotaxis. It should be no surprise then that logistics hubs have become hot spots for new testing grounds.
Aurora Innovation, the company co-founded by former Google executive Chris Urmson, is the latest to emphasize that focus.
The company said Monday it has expanded testing to Texas, where it will keep a small fleet of autonomous Class 8 trucks and Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Those vehicles will traverse key logistics delivery corridors in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, helping to refine the company's self-driving system, called the Aurora Driver.
That testing -- which will commence with human safety drivers aboard -- will set the stage for freight and delivery services.
"While the Driver will ultimately move both people and goods, our first commercial product will be in trucking — where the market is largest today, the unit economics are best, and the level of service requirements is most accommodating," Aurora said in a statement.
Because of its industry-friendly regulatory environment and geographic position along multiple interstate highways, Texas has emerged as an epicenter for self-driving trucking. Before Aurora, trucking firms such as Kodiak Robotics and the now-defunct Starsky Robotics had set up offices in the Dallas area.
Companies such as Waymo and TuSimple have based their self-driving truck testing in Arizona but ply routes along Interstate 10 to multiple Texas cities on a daily basis. Self-driving delivery startup Nuro has made Houston its key testing ground through partnerships with CVS, Kroger and Walmart.
The I-10 Corridor Coalition, which includes California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, has worked, among broader goals, to enable seamless self-driving testing across state lines.
"Texas' role as a crucial state in the movement of goods makes it a natural place for Aurora's expanded testing," the company wrote. "With more public-road miles than any other state, Texas understands that self-driving technology will have a critical safety impact for those who drive on its roads."
The company, which Urmson co-founded along with former Tesla executive Sterling Anderson and ex-Uber executive Drew Bagnell, did not say exactly how many trucks and minivans it would put on the road as it ramps up its Texas operations in the next few weeks. But those efforts will start with the minivans this summer, according to a company spokesperson, followed by the Class 8 trucks by the end of the year.