Aurora and Werner Enterprises are testing self-driving tractor-trailers on a lonely Texas highway

Key Points
  • Aurora and Werner are testing self-driving tractor-trailer trucks on a crucial stretch of highway in Texas.
  • The road, between Fort Worth and El Paso, is a key part of the busy Atlanta-to-Los Angeles truck route, but human drivers find it monotonous to drive.
  • The trucks have human operators on board for now, ready to take over if needed.
06 January 2022, US, Las Vegas: Robotic truck company Aurora shows off a self-driving semi-truck at the CES tech show in Las Vegas. In the Corona pandemic, interest in autonomous freight transport increased. 
Andrej Sokolow | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Self-driving startup Aurora Innovation has gone trucking in Texas.

Aurora announced Wednesday that it has begun a pilot test of self-driving tractor-trailers with logistics giant Werner Enterprises. Aurora's self-driving system – called Aurora Driver – will be operating Werner trucks on a roughly 600-mile stretch of highway between Fort Worth and El Paso.

That particular stretch is an important segment of a heavily traveled truck route between Atlanta and Los Angeles. But according to the companies, it's a monotonous nine-hour drive that human truck drivers would rather avoid – making it an ideal use case for the Aurora Driver system, which never gets bored.

For the time being, the Aurora-driven trucks will have human operators on board, ready to take over if needed. Aurora's system also isn't being asked to handle any tight urban driving situations.

Despite the constraints, the test is an important step forward for Aurora's driverless technology at a moment when trucking firms like Werner are grappling with a nationwide shortage of qualified human truck drivers.

Werner's CEO, Derek Leathers, was quick to say that the goal isn't to replace the company's human drivers entirely. Instead, as he sees it, self-driving systems like Aurora's will be able to handle routes that Werner's human drivers would rather avoid, while expanding the company's capacity during busy periods.

"We look forward to building a hybrid world where drivers continue to haul freight while autonomous trucks supplement rising demand," Leathers said.

This is Werner's first experience with autonomous trucks, but it's not the Aurora Driver's first deployment in big rigs. Both FedEx and Uber Technologies' trucking unit, Uber Freight, are running similar pilot programs with Aurora-driven heavy trucks. Aurora is also testing its Driver system with Toyota minivans in a ride-hailing fleet in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Aurora acquired Uber's self-driving division in 2020.