Silicon Valley has its sights set on the trucking industry, and for good reason.
Every time we receive a package of randomly assorted Amazon items, it was likely delivered on the back of a massive big-rig driven by one of 1.7 million truck drivers in the US. It’s important, and grueling, work that was thrown into national focus for a brief moment when President Donald Trump climbed into an 18-wheeler in March.
But the job, the most common one in 29 states, is also ripe for disruption.
Medium- and heavy-duty trucks generate 23% of the US transportation sector’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, and long hours combined with paltry wages lead to an extremely high turnover rate of 81%.
So when tech behemoths discuss electrifying or automating the trucking industry, it’s easy to see why there’s room for change. Scroll down for a breakdown of the companies trying to break into the space and what it all means:
Uber is pursuing self-driving trucks through Otto, a startup the company acquired last August, but the project is at the center of a massive lawsuit filed by Waymo, Google’s sister company for self-driving cars.
Otto released a video of a big-rig driving itself on a public highway using cameras and sensors last May.
Otto’s mission is to build trucks that could essentially drive 24/7 by allowing drivers to take naps during long trips, Otto cofounder Lior Ron told Business Insider last July. He also said the trucks would be more efficient because they wouldn’t waste fuel by accelerating and braking as frequently.
The concept aims to solve the more grueling and environmentally-compromising aspects of a truck driving without causing mass employment. But whether the project will survive the lawsuit filed by Waymo remains to be seen.
While Uber and Waymo battle it out in court, the Alphabet-owned company is also pursuing self-driving trucks. Waymo said it’s pursuing the self-driving vehicles to cut down on the number of truck-related deaths per year.
Waymo is currently a leader in the self-driving-car arms race and is picking up passengers in its autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans, pictured above, as part of a pilot in Phoenix, Arizona.
Now the company is figuring out the best way to integrate sensors on large trucks to begin road tests in Arizona later this year, Wired reported.
“Self-driving technology can transport people and things much more safely than we do today and reduce the thousands of trucking-related deaths each year,” a Waymo spokesperson told Wired.
In 2015, 4,067 people were killed and 116,000 people were injured in crashes involving large trucks, according to the latest figures provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
California-based startup Starsky Robotics came out of stealth mode in February and has already used a self-driving truck to haul freight for 120 miles on a highway.
Starsky is designing an aftermarket retrofit kit that will give big-rigs autonomous capabilities. The startup says its ultimate goal is to use autonomous technology to allow truck drivers to work closer to home.
Unlike Otto, Starsky’s model envisions a future where drivers aren’t sitting behind the wheel, Stefan Seltz-Axmache, the cofounder and CEO of Starsky, told Fortune. Instead, a trained driver will use a remote control to steer the truck from a highway exit to its final destination.