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Interstate 45: the Country’s Driverless-Trucking Testing Grounds

Published Jan 10, 2022 by David Ruiz

Houston Skyline + Freeway

North Houston Interstate 45

The stretch of Interstate 45 between Houston and Dallas is becoming a testing ground for driverless 18-wheelers. These big rigs are driving themselves between destinations hundreds of miles apart, positioning the Houston-Dallas corridor as a pivotal setting in the country’s automated vehicle revolution.

In September, autonomous vehicle (AV) company Aurora announced a partnership with FedEx and PACCAR to lead their driverless testing. These innovative medium-haul trips are mostly conducted by Aurora’s software, and safety drivers will remain in the trucks into late 2023. 

VP of Government Relations and Public Affairs Gerardo Interiano said Texas is the ideal testing ground for Aurora’s trucking service. “Trucking is the backbone of our economy, and Texas moves more goods by truck than any other state,” Interiano said. According to the 2017 U.S. Census, Texas ranked No. 1 in total weight of truck shipments with 1.3 billion tons of goods, establishing its superiority with a 719.4 million-ton margin from runner-up California.

Interiano also complimented Texas’ culture of innovation. “It’s a welcoming state for new technologies, which is advantageous as we refine and deploy our technology and service with a trusted transportation company like FedEx,” he said. 

In November, autonomous driving tech development company Waymo expanded their partnership with shipping giant UPS to test driverless freight trucks along the I-45 stretch. 

Product Manager at Waymo Pablo Abad said the state laws supporting driverless vehicles help the commercialization in Texas. “Whenever we go to a particular market or think about implementing the Waymo driver, we have to look at the regulations to see how favorably they view autonomous tech,” Abad told the Houston Chronicle. “Texas has been very helpful on that side.” 

The Partnership supported legislation related to AV operations during the 87th Legislative Session. 

Amid the autonomous big rig competition, other AV companies have also announced expansions into the Houston market. Google-backed Nuro, an active member of the Partnership’s Policy Committee, announced an expansion in November, while San Francisco-based Embark Trucks announced their Houston expansion in December. 

The AV competition grants Texas a front row seat to the continuing development of autonomous tech, bolstering Houston’s position as an innovation hub. 

Learn more about Houston’s innovation ecosystem and what makes the region a great place for business.

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