Eight years of experience on self-driving cars is now being stepped up to the biggest vehicles on the road.

Mountain View, California - Alphabet-owned Waymo is putting its autonomous driving expertise to work in trucking, in a new track for the unit formerly known as Google Car.

Tests with an 18-wheeler taking place now at a private track in California are to be followed up by trying out rigs, with drivers ready to take the wheels, on roads in Arizona later in 2017.

A Waymo spokesman said on Friday: "We're taking our eight years of experience in building self-driving hardware and software and conducting a technical exploration into how our technology can integrate into a truck."

The move ramps up Waymo's challenge to on-demand ride service Uber, which has been investing in technology for self-driving cars and trucks as part of its vision for the future of the San Francisco-based company.

Uber this week said that it fired engineer Anthony Levandowski, accused in a trade secrets suit involving files he purportedly purloined from Waymo before leaving to establish a start-up focused on self-driving trucks.

'Calculated theft'

The case stems from a lawsuit filed in February by Waymo claiming former manager Levandowski took a trove of technical data with him when he left to launch a competing venture that went on to become Otto and was later acquired by Uber.

Waymo argued in the lawsuit that a "calculated theft" of its technology netted Otto a buyout of more than $500 million (R6.35 billion) and enabled Uber to revive a stalled self-driving car programe.

US-based Tesla is also stepping up efforts in autonomous driving and is set to launch its first semi-truck in September 2017.

Agence France-Presse

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