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Waymo resumes self-driving truck tests on Arizona freeways

After pulling its self-driving trucks off Arizona roads in 2017, Waymo said Wednesday it's resuming tests of its autonomous tractor-trailers in the Phoenix area.

Waymo, Google's self-driving vehicle division, said the trucks will start driving on freeways this week and will expand to more routes over time. The company has previously tested its trucks in California and Georgia. 

"When we tested in Arizona before back in 2017, it was early days and we were just looking to gather some initial information about driving our trucks in the region," a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "Now we're back to continue that learning at a more advanced stage in our development." 

Waymo already conducts extensive testing for its self-driving minivans and also runs a taxi service in eastern Phoenix and its suburbs. 

First look inside Waymo's self-driving taxis

The company said the big trucks use the same sensors as passenger vehicles, but they're configured differently. The testing will start with two drivers in each rig.

Self-driving tech draws scrutiny

The development of autonomous vehicles, while championed as a way to reduce accidents and ease traffic congestion, has proved controversial. For the country's 180,000 taxi drivers and 3.5 million truck drivers, for example, self-driving vehicles like Waymo could profoundly alter the job market. By contrast, some experts think automation in trucking could create new jobs, such as specialized mechanics, although they would require different skills.

"Self-driving trucks will still need operators to perform tasks like repairing flat tires and managing emergencies, possibly changing the skillset and wages of truckers without significantly affecting the number of trucking jobs," the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a new report.

The technology also came under scrutiny last year when a self-driving Uber car struck and killed a Phoenix pedestrian, marking the first death caused by a fully autonomous vehicle and forcing the ride-sharing company to halt testing in Arizona. Also in 2018, a Waymo car was struck in Arizona by a Honda sedan swerving to avoid another vehicle. 

Uber and TuSimple also have driven self-driving trucks on Arizona roads. Waymo and Google are both subsidiaries of Alphabet, based in Mountain View, California.

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