FedEx To Begin First Fully Autonomous Semi-Truck Routes In Texas This Week

FedEx Aurora Paccar Announcement Hero

Self-driving vehicles have become more common, but commercial self-driving vehicles tend to still be quite rare. However, people will soon begin to see an increasing number of self-driving delivery trucks on the road. FedEx recently announced that they will begin testing their new self-driving semi-trucks this week.

These will be the first self-driving Class 8 trucks, better known in the United States as “semi-trucks.” The semi-trucks have been created by a collaboration between FedEx, self-driving company Aurora, and truck-makers PACCAR. They will feature “Aurora’s autonomous driving technology in PACCAR state-of-the-art Autonomous Vehicle Platform (AVP) equipped trucks within FedEx linehaul trucking operations.” This is reportedly the first collaboration of its kind.

The trucks will initially be tested on Interstate 45 between Houston and Dallas, Texas. The 500-mile round trip will be completed multiple times a week. The trucks will operate autonomously but there will also be a human backup driver just in case anything should go awry. If everything is successful, the semi-trucks will begin making their journey without a driver beginning in 2023.

FedEx has dabbled in self-driving vehicles before. They launched an autonomous delivery robot in 2019 that was intended to deliver same-day packages and  make “last mile” deliveries. FedEx announced a collaboration with Nuro this past summer to produce self-driving vehicles that would function in a similar way to the robots. However, the range and capabilities of these vehicles is supposed to be more extensive. They are especially testing “multiple stops and appointment-based deliveries.” The Nuro vehicles are meant to be driven on public roads, but nothing to the extent of the latest self-driving semi-trucks.

FedEx’s announcement comes shortly after the publication of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) preliminary findings on Tesla's autopilot system. Certain Tesla vehicles have had difficulty detecting emergency vehicles and this has led to unfortunate crashes. Tesla has started to take action to fix this issue, but there are still many concerns about the safety of self-driving vehicles. Accidents with commercial vehicles such as semi-trucks tend to be more dangerous than accidents with passenger vehicles. FedEx’s testing will need to be particularly vigorous before letting those vehicles out on the road without a backup driver.

Image courtesy of FedEx