Thanks to its favorable regulatory scheme, robust economy and huge territory, Texas has emerged as the most attractive market for America's nascent autonomous trucking industry.
Today, companies continue testing the technology with a driver in the cab ready to intervene. However, next year several companies will put unmanned and fully autonomous vehicles (AVs) into everyday duty on Texas roads; among them, TuSimple and Aurora Innovation.
The roots of today's driverless trucking boom in Texas are five years old, as Reuters reports:
Texas in 2017 passed its autonomous vehicle bill permitting the testing and deployment of driverless vehicles without the need for special registration, data-sharing or additional insurance requirements. The law also prevents local cities from imposing additional requirements.
Gatik uses smaller box trucks to serve the "middle mile" market for the retail industry—that is, short hauls to move things from business to business. In July, Gatik will begin using robotrucks to deliver paper products to Sam's Club locations in North Texas—initially with a driver aboard.
The lack of a comprehensive federal regulatory scheme for autonomous vehicles allows for significant distinctions from state to state—and for Texas to set itself apart by pursuing what it calls a "collaborative approach."
Not everyone's wild about what's happening in the Lone Star State. "Rushing this technology to market using regular drivers as beta testers in real-world driving conditions puts potentially everyone at risk," Ware Wendel, executive director of consumer advocate Texas Watch, told Reuters.
Texas has the most trucking crashes of any state each year. In testing, it has yet to record its first AV-caused crash.
Fort Worth has emerged as a key hub for companies pursuing opportunities in Texas. TuSimple and Gatik have presences at the nearby AllianceTexas logistics zone, where real estate developer Hillwood is focused on creating an AV-friendly environment by "minimizing left turns that are more complex because they cut through traffic, installing 5G networks and building AV-specific warehouse docks," according to Reuters.
According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the United States is grappling with a shortage of 80,000 truckers that could double by 2030. The group attributes half the shortage to retirements and the industry's accompanying struggle to recruit younger drivers.