Alphabet’s self-driving arm is expanding beyond passenger vehicles into autonomous freight trucks. The company, called Waymo, is testing its driverless trucks in Atlanta, Ga., by shipping cargo for its sister company, Google.
But Waymo — a pioneer of the self-driving industry — is entering a space already crowded by competitors, including Uber, with the same challenges facing the passenger vehicle space: How does it plan to commercialize the technology?
Waymo has explored multiple business strategies, according to people familiar with the matter. But it doesn’t have a built-in path to market the way Uber does. The ride-hail company launched a trucking logistics platform, called Uber Freight, that matches commercial truck drivers with companies looking to ship cargo, close to a year after it acquired self-driving trucking startup, Otto.
Uber announced earlier this week it had been shipping cargo for commercial partners in Phoenix, Ariz., since the beginning of this year. The company is working with commercial truck drivers and shippers for this service.
Waymo does have a nine-year technological development lead over its competitors. The company is far and way the most advanced autonomous company on the road with the only fleet of vehicles operating on public roads without a driver.
Of course, using an in-house logistics platform is not the only way to approach the driverless trucking industry. Trucking startup Embark, which has raised a little more than $17.2 million in funding, is taking the partnership approach instead. The company is working with commercial fleet management company Ryder to ship Frigidaire refrigerators.
Like both Uber and Embark, Waymo needs to strike a manufacturing partnership to build these trucks. That’s where Tesla, which recently unveiled its self-driving electric freight trucks, could have a leg up. As the original equipment manufacturer, Tesla’s primary path to market is fairly straightforward: Selling the trucks to other companies.
Whether the company will be able to meet the ambitious deadlines of manufacturing trucks starting in 2019 and at some point produce 100,000 trucks per year, as CEO Elon Musk laid out, however, is still yet to be seen.
All that said, the driverless trucking space is in its infancy, and given Waymo’s clear technological lead, the company may seem like an attractive partner for manufacturers and commercial shippers alike.
Alphabet has been public about its move into driverless trucking since Waymo was formed in late 2016, but it may not have always been the plan, at least according to recent testimonies. As part of Alphabet’s lawsuit against Uber over the acquisition of Otto, Otto co-founder and former Google Maps employee Lior Ron testified that he originally wanted to try to work on driverless trucks at Alphabet alongside Waymo. But the company wasn’t interested, he said.
In fact, he decided to sell the company to Uber — instead of staying at Alphabet or selling to Lyft — because it was one of the few places that was open to creating a driverless trucking service.
As many industry experts have predicted, autonomous trucks may hit the road en masse much faster than passenger vehicles, largely because teaching software how to drive on the highway is much easier than teaching software how to drive on local streets where there are many more variables.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.