Self-driving truck businesses in the United States have a wonderful opportunity in the form of a statewide driver shortage, but their robot drivers and their biggest potential clients are still not ready.
The uncertainty surrounding autonomous trucks comes at a critical time for the U.S. trucking sector, which is facing an 80,000-driver shortfall as demand for online shopping and quick delivery times puts a strain on supply lines.
According to data from Pitchbook, private investors have put roughly $9 billion into U.S. AV trucking businesses in the hopes that self-driving trucks will someday catch on. TuSimple Holdings Inc (TSP.O), Aurora Innovation Inc (AUR.O), Embark Technology Inc (EMBK.O), and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Waymo are among the businesses developing the technology.
Major logistics businesses, on the other hand, who represent the sought future customers of digital startups, are not in a hurry to sign large contracts. In limited agreements, they continue to test the technology of several vendors.
“Everyone is hedging their bets,” said Eric Fuller, CEO of US Xpress Enterprises Inc (USX.N), a carrier and transportation brokerage that owns and operates 6,000 tractors.
TuSimple and Aurora have joined forces with the company. Fuller, who also serves on TuSimple’s advisory board, said US Xpress was in talks with all of the other AV businesses, but that no new partnerships had been announced.
The firms claim to have created technology capable of safely piloting a 33,000-pound (15,000-kg) truck down a congested roadway and are working toward commercialization.
They provide the sensors and software, and some have worked with truck manufacturers to integrate their technology into the production line, but they all rely on huge logistics businesses to fund their services.
The United States Southwest, particularly Texas and Arizona, has emerged as a testing site for heavy-duty autonomous vehicle (AV) businesses due to good weather and laws.