autonomous freight

Self-driving trucking facility opens in Houston, readies for 2024 launch in Texas

Texas is one step closer to seeing a Houston-to-Dallas driverless truck route on I-45. Photo courtesy of Aurora

Houston is emerging as a major player in the evolution of self-driving freight trucks.

In October, Aurora Innovation opened a more than 90,000-square-foot terminal at a Fallbrook Drive logistics hub in northwest Houston to support the launch of its first “lane” for driverless trucks — a Houston-to-Dallas route on I-45. Aurora opened its Dallas-area terminal in April.

Close to half of truck freight in Texas moves along I-45 between Houston and Dallas.

“With this corridor’s launch, we’ve defined, refined, and validated the framework for the expansion of our network with the largest partner ecosystem in the autonomous trucking industry,” Sterling Anderson, co-founder and chief product officer at Pittsburgh-based Aurora, says in a news release.

Aurora produces software that controls autonomous vehicles. The software is installed in trucks from Paccar, whose brands include Kenworth and Peterbilt, and Volvo.

Anderson says its Houston and Dallas terminals came online well ahead of its scheduled launch of driverless trucks between the two cities. The terminals house, maintain, and inspect autonomous trucks.

Aurora currently hauls more than 75 loads per week (under the supervision of vehicle operators) from Houston to Dallas and Fort Worth to El Paso. The company’s customers in its pilot project include FedEx, Uber Freight, and Werner.

“We are on track to launch commercial operations at the end of 2024, with Dallas to Houston serving as our first commercial route,” the company says.

In July, Aurora said it raised $820 million in capital to fuel its growth — growth that’s being accompanied by scrutiny. Self-driving taxi service, Cruise, which recently launched in Houston, has put it in park for the time being.

In light of recent controversies surrounding self-driving vehicles, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, whose union members include over-the-road truckers, recently sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick calling for a ban on autonomous vehicles in Texas.

“The Teamsters believe that a human operator is needed in every vehicle — and that goes beyond partisan politics,” the letter states. “State legislators have a solemn duty in this matter to keep dangerous autonomous vehicles off our streets and keep Texans safe. Autonomous vehicles are not ready for prime time, and we urge you to act before someone in our community gets killed.”

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A View From HETI

Nádia Skorupa Parachin joined Cemvita as vice president of industrial biotechnology. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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