Self-driving trucks are increasingly looking like a lucrative bet for the long haul.
With tens of thousands of drivers needed to combat a labor shortage in a $700-billion industry in the U.S. alone, more companies are putting effort into developing autonomous technology for trucking.
The latest came last week, when Volvo Group and Nvidia joined forces to advance such systems. Officials from the two companies outlined a multiyear agreement in which they'll combine Nvidia's experience in artificial intelligence and computing with Volvo's work in vehicle dynamics.
Work will focus on trucking, but other commercial vehicles, such as buses, tractors and construction vehicles, may also use the systems. Financial terms of the partnership were not disclosed.
The companies have been quietly working together on autonomous truck technology for an undisclosed period of time, and Tuesday's announcement formalizes their partnership, in which engineering teams will co-locate in both Gothenburg, Sweden, and Santa Clara, Calif.
"The technology is much more significant than what we'd apply to a passenger-owned vehicle," Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said. "When you look at the breadth of this project, now we really have to step it up."
Both companies already have separate undertakings in the trucking space. Volvo has deployed autonomous trucks in Norway at a limestone mine, where it is close to using only trucks that have no human backup drivers, according to Lars Stenqvist, chief technology officer with Volvo Group.
"Now we're about to take that technology on public roads, and we want to do that with the world's best partner," he said. "To us, it's the perfect match."
Nvidia already works with trucking giant Paccar and self-driving big-rig startups such as TuSimple and Einride. What makes the new partnership stand out is that Volvo Group is the first to use Nvidia's end-to-end platform design for autonomous trucks — one that spans training, simulation and in-vehicle computers that use Nvidia's Drive AV software stack.
"It's the deepest partnership we've ever announced," Huang said. "This is really exciting for us, because we can be part of the vision to transform transport solutions, and along the way, transform Volvo into a technology company. So this is a very important milestone."
The announcement marks the latest efforts by both traditional industry players and newcomers to delve into trucking. Waymo said last month that it had restarted its efforts to test self-driving trucks in the Phoenix area, while TuSimple conducted a pilot project using self-driving trucks to haul packages between Dallas and Phoenix for the U.S. Postal Service.
The American Trucking Associations estimate a shortage of 50,000 drivers, which it projects will soar to 175,000 by 2026.