Waymo and TuSimple autonomous trucking leaders on the difficulty of building a highway-safe AI – TechCrunch

TuSimple and Waymo are in the lead in the emerging sector of autonomous trucking; TuSimple founder Xiaodi Hou and Waymo trucking head Boris Sofman had an in-depth discussion of their industry and the tech they’re building at TC Mobility 2020. Interestingly, while they’re solving for the same problems, they have very different backgrounds and approaches.

Hou and Sofman started out by talking about why they were pursuing the trucking market in the first place. (Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.)

“The market is massive; I think in the United States, $700-$800 billion a year is spent on the trucking industry. It’s continuing to grow every single year,” said Sofman, who joined Waymo from Anki last year to lead the effort in freight. “And there’s a huge shortage of drivers today, which is only going to increase over the next period of time. It’s just such a clear need. But it’s not going to be overnight — there’s still a really long tail of challenges that you can’t avoid. So the way we talk about it is the things that are hardest are just different.”

“It’s really the cost and reward analysis, thinking about building the operating system,” said Hou. “The cost is the number of features that you develop, and the reward is basically how many miles are you driving — you charge on a per mile basis. From that cost-reward analysis, trucking is simply the natural way to go for us. The total number of issues that you need to solve is probably 10 times less, but maybe, you know, five times harder.”

“It’s really hard to quantify those numbers, though,” he concluded, “but you