News Article | 10/6/2023

Move over: Drones and autonomous vehicles are on the way to Texas roads

Make way for drones, electric cars and autonomous trucks. The seemingly futuristic transportation technologies are close to transforming the way people and cargo travel, some of the world’s biggest names in business and politics were told Thursday at a high-powered gathering at the Perot family’s Circle T Ranch.

At the UP.Summit on Thursday, hundreds of investors came to hear from leading experts in aviation, transportation and defense about the latest innovations that could significantly change the way people and goods move.

“We want to stay on top of the new technology,” said Ross Perot Jr., who leads one of the country’s largest independent property portfolios. “We want to attract the greatest entrepreneurs.”

The gathering this week features major international power players such as former President George W. Bush, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and former Secretary of State and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson.

Perot said artificial intelligence could help with “deconfliction” in the airfield, and manage safety in the air. He also said artificial intelligence has the opportunity to improve the battery to help improve its efficiency.

First, however, he said self-driving trucks will come, especially in the wake of a truck driver shortage and the routes already being tested on Texas roads.

In 2024, Gatik plans to deploy “freight only” trucks without drivers in Texas. Gautam Narang, CEO and co-founder of Gatik, is confident in the technology and its safety features. Next year, the company will discuss more about the route it has planned for Dallas, he said.

“Next year is a big year for us, where we are scaling our freight-only operations with multiple customers on the roads here in D-FW,” Narang said. “These are the roads where we’ll drive on surface streets, everything from traffic lights, intersections. All of that is fair game and highway driving as well.”

Gatik is experimenting with autonomous trucking and is using smaller trucks for shorter and more frequent deliveries from fulfillment centers to stores in Dallas-Fort Worth. Kroger, Sam’s Club and suppliers Georgia Pacific and Pitney-Bowes are among the Fortune 500 companies working locally with Gatik.

There are many autonomous vehicle firms that are using Texas, and more specifically, D-FW as its testing grounds.

Aurora and Kodiak Robotics are the only autonomous driving companies still operating driverless trucks along the nearly 300-mile stretch of Interstate 45 that connects Dallas and Houston. Kodiak said Thursday that it is partnering with shipping giant Maersk for an autonomous trucking route between Houston and Oklahoma City.

Aurora runs autonomous trucks along freight corridors in Texas with a safety driver, but is on track to deploy completely driverless trucks from Dallas to Houston by the end of 2024. Kodiak has been driving a route between Dallas and Houston since 2019.

Cruise, a California-based self-driving technology company backed by General Motors, Honda, Microsoft, T. Rowe Price and Walmart, is conducting tests in Dallas with autonomous ride-hailing vehicles. Waymo, Google’s autonomous driving sister company, pulled back from its driverless truck tests in Texas and instead said it will “focus [its] efforts and investment on ride-hailing.” Last year, Waymo built a 9-acre trucking hub in Lancaster.

Next could come eVTOLs, otherwise known as air taxis, according to Perot. He believes in about 10 years, air taxis will be available and artificial intelligence will help speed up the development.

“Air taxis (have) a human pilot and that (change) will happen quick,” Perot said. “Air taxis with no pilot, our FAA will take their time, because safety is paramount for our FAA.”

This week, at DFW International Airport’s State of the Airport luncheon, CEO Sean Donohue told attendees that the second busiest airport in the world will offer a fully automated passenger experience with urban air mobility, like electric air taxis, by the 2040s.

Another key part of automation in transportation is the popularity of drones.

In August, Walmart announced the expansion of its drone delivery in Dallas-Fort Worth, adding services to two locations in the coming months, including the Walmart Supercenter located at 8555 Preston Road in Frisco and another unannounced location before the end of the year through Google’s drone delivery sister company, Wing.

The locations in Dallas, Garland, Mesquite, Murphy, Plano, Richardson, Rowlett and The Colony join 11 stores offering drone delivery services.

Adam Woodworth, CEO of Google Wing, said the main difference between drone delivery and the rest of aviation is that Wing doesn’t know where its next delivery may be, compared to a scheduled flight that has a timed departure and arrival.

“It’s not just a mission to build airplanes, we need to be able to build a lot of those airplanes and build them very cost-efficient,” Woodworth said.

Perot, whose Hillwood company runs Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, remains hopeful for the future, and it’s a future where transportation and artificial intelligence work together.

“At this event, you will have the next Steve Jobs in the room with an idea, or the next Elon or the next Jeff Bezos,” Perot said. “We want that entrepreneur to know about Texas, to know about Fort Worth, to know about Alliance. If they grow their business, we want them to grow with us.”

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