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

A Houston-based initiative has been selected by the DOE to receive funding to develop clean energy innovation programming for startups and entrepreneurs. Photo via Getty Images

Houston has been selected as one of the hubs backed by a new program from the United States Department of Energy that's developing communities for clean energy innovation.

The DOE's Office of Technology Transitions announced the the first phase of winners of the Energy Program for Innovation Clusters, or EPIC, Round 3. The local initiative is one of 23 incubators and accelerators that was awarded $150,000 to support programming for energy startups and entrepreneurs.

The Houston-based participant is called "Texas Innovates: Carbon and Hydrogen Innovation and Learning Incubator," or CHILI, and it's a program meant to feed startups into the DOE recognized HyVelocity program and other regional decarbonization efforts.

EPIC was launched to drive innovation at a local level and to inspire commercial success of energy startups. It's the third year of the competition that wraps up with a winning participant negotiating a three-year cooperative agreement with OTT worth up to $1 million.

“Incubators and Accelerators are uniquely positioned to provide startups things they can't get anywhere else -- mentorship, technology validation, and other critical business development support," DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of OTT Vanessa Z. Chan says in a news release. “The EPIC program allows us to provide consistent funding to organizations who are developing robust programming, resources, and support for innovative energy startups and entrepreneurs.”

CHILI, the only participant in Texas, now moves on to the second phase of the competition, where they will design a project continuation plan and programming for the next seven months to be submitted in September.

where they’ll implement their programming and design a project continuation plan over the next 7 months. In September they will submit their plans with the hope of being selected to negotiate a three-year cooperative agreement with OTT, worth up to $1 million each.

Phase 2 also includes two national pitch competitions with a total of $165,000 in cash prizes up for grabs for startups. The first EPIC pitch event for 2024 will be in June at the 2024 Small Business Forum & Expo in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Last fall, the DOE selected the Gulf Coast's project, HyVelocity Hydrogen Hub, as one of the seven regions to receive a part of the $7 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The hub was announced to receive up to $1.2 billion — the most any hub will get.


The DOE's OTT selections are nationwide. Photo via energy.gov

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