Stevens Trucking Co. has reached an eight-year agreement with startup Locomation to use its autonomous relay convoys —also known as truck platoons — to operate up to 500 trucks on specific interstate lane segments in the next five years. Financial terms were undisclosed.
The El Reno, Oklahoma-based carrier runs more than 300 tractors and 1,500 trailers between their oilfield-flatbed and dry freight divisions. Stevens operates in the 48 contiguous states. Most of its routes are in Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois and Ohio.
“We chose Locomation because we’re convinced they are bringing to market the safest and most viable turnkey model to enable us to deploy autonomous technology in the near term,” Kenney Stevens, CEO of Stevens Trucking, said in a news release.
Locomation targets lane development in 2022-23 with deployment in 2024 on Interstate 35, I-40, I-44 and I-45. Soft pilots begin in spring 2023. Initial commercialization follow in fall 2023 with a ramp into ’24.
Stevens expects Locomation’s proprietary planning and optimization system to allow it to run its trucks 20-plus hours per day.
Locomation’s high-autonomy approach
A human-led convoy of two electronically tethered trucks comprises Pittsburgh-based Locomation’s ARC system. Human-guided autonomy enables one driver to operate the lead truck while a second driver rests in the follower truck.
By swapping the drivers at the end of an 11-hour allowable shift, Locomation could safely operate two trucks for up to 22 hours per day, while remaining in compliance with the hours-of-service regulations.
The approach to high-level autonomy differs from other startups pursuing Level 4 autonomy in a single truck,. Those companies envision eventually operating with no human in the cab on runs between hubs. Human drivers would move freight onto distribution centers.
Locomation estimates the total freight transportation value of autonomous trucking on the six lane segments it is developing at more than $9 billion annually.
Stevens plans to double its market share on these lanes, reduce empty miles by up to 50% and improve fuel efficiency by more than 20%. That includes up to a 22% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for shipper customers.
“This is an incredible opportunity to establish a strong early mover presence in the lanes we’ve chosen to launch in and enable us to double our market share,” Stevens said.
Locomation previously signed contracts with Wilson Logistics, PGT Trucking and Christenson Transportation.