Aurora Innovation, the self-driving technology startup founded by Chris Urmson, one of the original engineers of the Google Self-Driving Car Project that eventually became Waymo, plans to launch a service that offers access to fully automated semi-trailer trucks as soon as 2024, the company said this month.

The service will go by the name Aurora Horizon, and operate initially on a route between Dallas and Houston. Aurora will establish terminals at each end point where a trailer can be delivered and picked up by a human driver for transport to a final destination. Autonomous vehicles have been legal on Texas highways since 2017.

Aurora said the service will be fully scalable, and gradually expanded to more locations. The company said because the trucks will be driverless, they can operate around the clock, stopping only for refueling, loading, and maintenance. The company gave an example of a trailer being transported between Dallas and Los Angeles in less than 24 hours.

Aurora will offer the service via subscription, and said it will provide customers, typically fleet operators, with a more reliable, more predictable, and cost-efficient self-driving service to supplement existing teams of human drivers.

The trucks will run Aurora's own Aurora Driver self-driving system, which consists of both software and hardware systems, and is updated over time to make it more robust. Aurora said the system uses AI that has been trained on public roads, in virtual tests that expose it to rare scenarios, and that new scenarios can be added to the system's database to continually improve it.

The Aurora Driver is rated at Level 4 on the SAE scale of self-driving capability. This means it can drive on its own for extended periods within specific conditions, the typical one being within a geofenced area with sufficient map data. Level 5 is the ultimate goal, whereby a self-driving car is able to handle all of the same conditions as a human.

Aurora self-driving truck terminal

Aurora self-driving truck terminal

Aurora also plans a robotaxi service to be called Aurora Connect, which the company is currently developing in partnership with Toyota.

Aurora is also working with automotive supplier Continental, which will help develop and eventually supply a next-generation hardware set, including sensors and computers, for the Aurora Driver. Continental will integrate these hardware components into pods that will be supplied to Aurora’s vehicle manufacturing partners, starting in 2027.