Uber Freight Wants to Embrace Driverless Trucks—First in Texas

a large truck on a road
Uber Freight Wants to Embrace Driverless TrucksAurora
  • Aurora Innovation and Uber Freight launch new program, set to give freight carriers early access to SAE Level 4 trucks.

  • Uber Freight will be one of Aurora's first customers on the Dallas to Houston driverless route, set to launch later in 2024.

  • SAE Level 4 tech for semitrucks is approaching a wider rollout after years of testing, but a number of technological, legislative, and practical hurdles remain.

A decade ago driverless trucks seemed like something likely to arrive by the middle of the 21st century, even as robotaxi mania reached fever pitch.

But truck makers have been fairly realistic about the chances of the rollout of SAE Level 4 technology that would allow trucks to operate with or without a human on board, predicting a slow climb even to SAE Level 2 functions.


Now, driverless trucks are transitioning from the prototype phase with freight industry partners to the commercial phase.

Uber Freight has teamed up with autonomous truck developer Aurora Innovation, eyeing the Dallas-to-Houston route to kick things off. The program is called Premier Autonomy, with the two companies planning to offer Uber Freight carriers early access to Aurora's autonomous tech starting later this year.

The two companies have been working together for some time, having now transported millions of pounds worth of cargo since teaming up in 2020 as part of a pilot program. Now, the two are expanding the collaboration.

"With Uber Freight, we can provide hundreds of carriers priority access to autonomous truck capacity that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Working with carriers of all sizes is one of the many ways we will transform the industry and see thousands of driverless trucks on the road," said Ossa Fisher, president of Aurora.

By 2030, Uber Freight wants to offer its customers 1 billion driverless miles with Aurora's hardware and software.

The pitch for freight customers includes dramatically quicker delivery times, with Aurora citing the potential for a Dallas to Los Angeles route that can be completed in a single day with a driverless truck—a journey that now takes two to three days.

Another advertised benefit includes greater energy efficiency by driving during off-peak hours, and at optimized highway speeds.

The Dallas-to-Houston route has become the target of a number of autonomous trucking industry hopefuls. But the catalyst was Texas' embrace of autonomous testing years ago, even before the commercial truck driver shortage started becoming acute.

Of course, the flip side of the state-by-state legislation of autonomous tech in the US means that for now developers and freight haulers are looking mostly at intrastate trucking. To move toward interstate trucking, neighboring states would have to be on board with SAE Level 4 autonomy.

The Dallas to Houston route should serve as an important test case this decade, before wider-scale implementation is permitted by various jurisdictions. But it's clear the industry wants autonomous trucking to happen, even if profitable operations will still take some time, as we've seen in the robotaxi industry.

Testing of shorter, last-mile routes with smaller driverless trucks has also been taking place elsewhere in North America for some time.

"Uber Freight and Aurora see a tremendous opportunity to democratize autonomous trucks for carriers of all sizes, enabling them to drive more revenue, scale their fleets, and strengthen their bottom lines," said Lior Ron, founder and chief executive officer of Uber Freight.

It remains to be seen how quickly SAE Level 4 trucks can be scaled up, and whether such operations will be able to achieve profitability in the near future.

As we've already seen, robotaxi operations and profitable robotaxi operations are two different things, and the latter barrier can be more daunting than achieving the technical ability to deploy driverless vehicles themselves.

Will driverless trucks become a reality in the coming months and years, or is this technology still unproven on a wide scale and will need years of further work? Let us know what you think in the comments below.