C.H. Robinson and Waymo launch strategic partnership focused on autonomous trucking

Minneapolis, Minn.-based global logistics services provider and freight forwarder C.H. Robinson and Mountain View, Calif.-based Waymo Via, the trucking and local delivery unit of autonomous driving technology company Waymo, announced today they have teamed up on a long-term strategic partnership focused on mutually exploring the practical application of autonomous driving technology in both logistics and supply chains.

C.H. Robinson and Waymo officials said that this partnership meshes the Waymo Driver, Waymo’s autonomous technology, with Navisphere, C.H. Robinson’s Navisphere, its connected logistics platform, which provides end-to-end visibility, consistent business processes, and strategy-driven business intelligence on a global basis. 

In the early stages of this collaboration, the companies said that they will focus on running multiple pilots in the Dallas-Houston transportation lane, using Waymo’s autonomous trucks moving C.H. Robinson’s shipper customers’ freight. And they added that both during and after the pilots, they will work together “to shape the future development and expansion of autonomous driving technology as an additional transportation solution,” noting that it will provide various benefits, including: much-needed capacity, help to improve the carrier and driver experience; and address the business challenges posed by long-term driver shortages.

In a media briefing yesterday, Waymo’s Head of Commercialization for Trucking Charlie Jatt described this collaboration as a strategic partnership to explore the practical application of autonomous driving technology in logistics and supply chains. And he noted that the partnership’s multiple pilots in the coming years will prepare for a fully autonomous launch and operation and to also shape how and where autonomous driving technology can advance and bring the most benefit for the logistics industry.

C.H. Robinson Chief Commercial Officer Chris O’Brien said at the briefing that he sees this partnership as a long-term and broad collaboration covering a lot of different areas.

“We really see this as much more than a pilot, and that is where this gets more interesting,” he said. “It does lay the groundwork for us to explore C.H. Robinson’s freight network, the largest in North America with Waymo’s autonomous L4 driving technology. During and after the pilots, our companies are going to collaborate in a lot of different ways, using both of our teams’ experience, tech, and data and ultimately working to shape and accelerate the future expansion of AV technology and the benefits it brings to shippers and carriers. We are excited about innovating together, both in the short-term and the long-term, to help both the driver experience, as well as help carriers find efficiency in their business and ultimately to our shipper customers everywhere who face a long-term driver shortage and extremely constrained capacity and bringing a long-term solution to that as well.”

Waymo’s Jatt noted that Waymo via will deliver an autonomous driving technology solution that optimizes safety and efficiency, coupled with C.H. Robinson’s large network of 200,000 shippers and carriers (with 85,000 of them motor carriers), 20 million shipments per year, and insights on more than 3 million shipping lanes.

“Together, we can combine C.H. Robinson’s logistics expertise and data with Waymo’s technology and expertise to help tailor this new product to the specific needs of the logistics industry and apply it where it promises the most benefit,” he said. “That is a powerful combination, and we believe it is an important component of delivering economic viability of AV technology in the logistics industry.”

Jatt explained as a point of clarification that Waymo Via’s business model is to provide a technology solution, with no plans to build a commercial fleet. And he added with that C.H. Robinson offers access to its carrier base comprised of many small and medium-sized carriers that make up the bulk of the North American carrier base today.

“This collaboration also lays a really interesting foundation to explore how we can make this technology available to more and more carriers through Waymo Via’s driver-as-a-service business model,” he said.

What’s more, C.H. Robinson’s O’Brien made the point that the companies are uniquely positioned to position the small and medium-sized carriers in C.H. Robinson’s carrier base network in a more autonomous world.

“They have not necessarily been some of the early targets of the AV industry so far,” he said. “[Carriers] with less than 400 tractors that we consider small and medium make up 83% of all the for-hire tractors, or capacity, on the road today. And those largest, with 4,000 or more, account for only about 7%. We work with carriers of all sizes, but one thing we think we can uniquely do with Waymo is usher this in in a way that includes the voice of the small and medium carrier and bring that efficiency and time savings to them and with more shippers than anyone in North America on our platform, we are really excited to represent a broad list of 100,000 different carriers and bringing that efficiency to them. We see a great opportunity both in the near-term and the long term for AV technology to make supply chains more efficient and sustainable. Ultimately, we think it is going to transform the way supply chains operate.”

While the trucking industry is one of the most critical sectors of the economy, with trucks moving 70% of all freight in the U.S., or 11 billion tons moved per year, Jatt observed that the industry faces a number of challenges—some that are longstanding and others tied to supply chain challenges in recent years.

And he explained that one key area in which autonomous technology can be highly beneficial is for safety, with traffic crashes not only being grave but also having a significant economic impact, costing around $30 billion per year. And he added that over the past ten years, commercial trucking insurance rates have also skyrocketed, with commercial fleets seeing rate increases, from 100%-to-300%.

“Our goal…is to build on all of the great safety advances the trucking industry has already made to date and improve these statistics by making every mile safer with the Waymo Driver, including the 300 billion miles traveled by trucks,” Jatt said. “We believe these safety advances will be not only important for society but also present as big economic opportunity for the trucking industry because of some of those cost components.”

Addressing the years-long truck driver shortage, O’Brien said it is not a new challenge but it is one that is becoming more evident due to things like increased demand and Covid, with a lot of trends working against this problem and making it worse, coupled with the aging driver population in North America.

“The average age of a truck driver in North America is close to 50, and the population of 21-year-old people that are eligible to enter the driving population has been shrinking,” he said. “The labor shortage has only exacerbated the challenge and…trucking is a hard job. We think this has an impact that can help the trucking industry. At the same time, drivers have been very much attracted to short-haul and it being a way keeping them closer to home. E-commerce has accelerated the percentage of freight that is out there in short-haul. We see ultimately that long-haul autonomous trucking could be like a new mode of transportation and one that provides relief to the driver shortages and one that can also accelerate the growth of driver-attractive short-haul freight, when you think about those local pick up and deliveries that support long-haul autonomous.”  

Another key component of AV technology is to minimize fleet down time, according to Jatt. He said that ensuring that shipments arrive safely, efficiently, and on-time are key drivers.

“With an optimized and dependable autonomous driving technology and C.H. Robinson’s freight matching and shipment optimization network, we believe we together can help ensure trucks are running full and enabling carriers to operate at the highest level of efficiency for their business, which is ultimately a shared mission that both of our companies are going after.”

In the coming months, Jatt said that the companies will launch their first pilot, using the Waymo research and development fleet to deliver freight in Texas for one of C.H. Robinson’s leading customers. These initial pilots will leverage the Waymo test fleet, he said, which Waymo owns and operates, adding that Waymo has “no plans” to build a commercial fleet.

“The long-term model is to really make this technology available to carriers,” he said.

While Jatt declined to disclose details on the pilot’s specifics, he said its focus is really around learnings and flexibility, and the broad vision of what Waymo and C.H. Robinson are going after, with the pilot being a key stepping stone to successfully developing the right product and lay down the foundation for successful commercialization.

And O’Brien said that customer interest in the pilot has been enormous, adding that with C.H. Robinson’s scale and density of freight, it was not hard to find interested customers.

“The pilot is about learning the practical application, with both companies getting smarter and our shippers getting smarter about what happens with those interchanges,” he said. “The metrics we are more focused on with this partnership are the long-term [maturing] of this industry that is going to bring us efficiency, trailer utilization, and increased capacity. Those are the things we are really focused on. It is more about the long term than the pilots themselves.”

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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