FedEx and Aurora herald rollout of autonomous trucking pilot lane expansion – Supply Chain 24/7

Memphis-based global freight transportation and logistics services bellwether FedEx and Pittsburgh-based Aurora Innovation Inc., a provider of self-driving technology, recently announced they have taken steps to expand their pilot program, which they have been collaborating on for more than six months, in which FedEx shipments will autonomously move on a new commercial lane in Texas.

The pilot program began in September 2021, when FedEx, Aurora, and medium-and heavy-duty vehicle manufacturers PACCAR collaborated to test Aurora’s autonomous driving technology in PACCAR state-of-the-art Autonomous Vehicle Platform (AVP) equipped trucks within FedEx linehaul trucking operations. The companies said, at the time, that the objective of the collaboration is “to accelerate the development and scaled deployment of autonomous driving technology in a safe and thoughtful way.” 

FedEx and Aurora said that in March Aurora’s next-generation trucks, which are based on the new Peterbilt 579 model, kicked off moving FedEx shipments between Aurora’s new Texas-based terminals, in Fort Worth and El Paso, with Aurora making the 600-mile trip every week, with safety drivers on board. What’s more, they said they expect the frequency of these trips to increase in the coming months, with Aurora continuing to move FedEx shipments between the Aurora South Dallas terminal and the company’s new Houston terminal every day.

Along with these daily runs between South Dallas and Houston, the companies also cited some other notable accomplishments from the pilot program, including: completing 100% of deliveries on time for the delivery of shipments between South Dallas and Houston; moving freight during various weather conditions and at all times of day and night, optimizing fleet utilization; completing daily hauls during the 2021 peak Holiday seasons, FedEx’s busiest time of year, and completing 60,000 miles with zero safety incidents.

Rebecca Yeung, Corporate Vice President, Operations Science & Advanced Technology, FedEx Corporation, told LM that FedEx and Aurora are adding new routes ahead of schedule, due to the success of the initial phase.

“The exponential growth of e-commerce has accelerated the demand for reliable, efficient transportation and logistics solutions throughout all stages of the supply chain,” she said. “FedEx believes that continued innovation and automation will improve safety, efficiency, and productivity for the company’s more than 560,000 team members as they continue to move the world forward. This collaboration enables safer, more efficient transportation of goods for the entire FedEx ecosystem. Aurora moves trailers for FedEx during various weather conditions and all hours of the day and night, optimizing fleet utilization, and providing thousands of FedEx customers with on-time deliveries—100% of the time.”

As for the pilot’s next steps going forward, Leung said that FedEx and Aurora will continue to test further integration of autonomous technology into FedEx operations to build a collaborative, robust network of solutions to respond to growing customer demand.

“Some time ago, I was asked why the general public should care about autonomous trucking. This is why. In six months of working with FedEx, we’ve safely, reliably, and efficiently transported packages for tens of thousands of FedEx customers,” said Sterling Anderson, Aurora Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, in a statement. “This lane expansion came ahead of schedule and we’re delighted to continue building the future of trucking with one of the country’s biggest and most important transportation companies.”

Morgan Stanley analyst Ravi Shanker wrote in a research note that his firm continues to be encouraged by the progress Aurora has made over the last several quarters and believes that successful partnerships with established freight market participants such as FedEx will help the company to gain the real-world insights necessary to ramp-up to full commercialization over the next few years.

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