"When you think about freeways, you need to solve that for ride-hailing," said Shai Ben Nun, until recently a program manager for Waymo Via, the company's trucking and delivery division. "That has really paved the way."
There's been crossover in some obvious areas such as developing long-range sensing capability, and in some not-so-obvious areas: As Waymo prepared its robotaxis to handle hills in San Francisco, it borrowed what it learned about climbing steep grades from self-driving truck testing conducted throughout the Southwest.
It's a perfect example of what Ludwick describes as "unlocking capabilities" vs. thinking in terms of specific geographies or vehicle platforms.
"The goal is to be as surgical as possible, with small tweaks here and there," he said. "That's the philosophy that lets you move as fast as possible for the whole program."
Not everyone agrees with that philosophy. Most companies in the self-driving truck space concentrate on trucking applications and do not believe a self-driving system can be used for such varied platforms as Class 8 trucks and minivans.
"We have robotaxi players that have taken the driver out, and in theory, you should be able to do that pretty easily on the trucking side if you are pushing the story that it's transferable," said Cheng Lu, CEO of self-driving truck company TuSimple. "I think that could be a pretty easy litmus test."
While Waymo is developing cars and trucks concurrently, it did not begin its trucking efforts in earnest until 2017, and the company says it intends to continue its concentration on robotaxis for now. There is not yet a timetable for Waymo deploying trucks in commercial operation with no human backups aboard.
Aurora, a competitor working on both trucks and minivans, intends to concentrate on trucks first and launch commercial service in late 2023.
For now, Waymo is working with partners such as UPS Inc., J.B. Hunt and C.H. Robinson to prepare for self-driving operations.