An Army veteran and self-taught trucker is helping to usher in the new era of self-driving semi trucks thanks to his recent work with Waymo, an autonomous transportation project.
Jon Rainwater worked as an Army intelligence analyst in the late 70s “watching the Russians,” as he said to Business Insider. After retiring from the service, Rainwater went to college, but ended up choosing to get his CDLA. He borrowed a truck and practiced driving entirely on his own, eventually passing the driving tests as a self-taught driver.
Rainwater hauled hazmat and worked several local runs in Los Angeles and San Francisco before eventually gaining more OTR work, and his experiences allowed him to see the truth in trucking: truckers are overworked. And that’s when he started thinking about better ways to transport goods across the country – enter Waymo.
Waymo has been working on technology that would allow semi trucks to haul goods autonomously, with a driver only as backup.
“When I heard about it two or three years ago, I told myself I wish I could take my experience and contribute,” Rainwater said.
Rainwater now lives and works in Arizona as a commercial drivers license instructor and is the creator of the trucking educational program for Waymo U, the organization’s training arm, instructing safety drivers for Waymo Via, under which the trucking effort operates.
“It’s really exciting.” Rainwater said of the program. “[They are] testing the next generation of equipment. That equipment can now scan the entire area around an autonomous truck to a greater distance,” Rainwater explained, and is more detailed and accurate than previous technology at a lower cost.
Rainwater, who also conducts real-world testing of the autonomous semi trucks, would typically spend 30+ hours a week in one of the trucks prior to COVID-19.
“Sometimes, I’d make a run to Tucson and back, about 220 miles around trip,” Rainwater said of Waymo’s Class 8 tractor trailers. “The truck can do that trip as a cruise. I’m making sure nothing goes wrong.”
Rainwater’s goal as a trainer is to create competent, smart drivers who understand Waymo’s history and high standards when it comes to safety.
“I’ve never worked in an environment where safety has played such a big role,” he said. “It’s the complete opposite of my early trucking experience.”