The Sierra Blanca checkpoint, approximately 88 miles east of El Paso, is where Aurora works with Border Patrol to develop practices and protocols for autonomous trucks.

Before Aurora’s Class 8 trucks hit the road, the company provides Border Patrol with a schedule showing anticipated arrival times, trailer identification and the number of occupants aboard.

Approaching the checkpoint, a sign with flashing lights directs all trucks — both human-driven and autonomous — to the middle and right of the three available lanes. Once they arrive, the self-driving systems read custom-designed signs that either clear them to proceed or ask them to stop for inspection.

“Sometimes we stop, and sometimes we go right through,” Interiano said.

Aurora’s trucks have traversed the checkpoint more than 200 times since the pilot program started in both autonomous and manual modes, he said. Those trips have come while the company has hauled goods for partners like Werner, Uber Freight and FedEx.

Even in autonomous mode, the trucks have a human safety driver in the cab to monitor operations for now. Eventually, Aurora will remove them and its trucks will navigate the checkpoints without onboard human supervision.

The pilot project is one aspect of how Aurora, the company founded by automated driving veterans Chris Urmson, Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell, is preparing for commercial service beyond building the self-driving technology itself.

Cooperation between Aurora and Border Patrol is focused only on the Sierra Blanca checkpoint for now, but they’re developing procedures they anticipate will roll out to other checkpoints in the future. Eventually, some of the practices could also work at border crossings, Interiano said.

“When we build this with our partners in government, we are thinking about how we can scale this and expand different routes,” he said.

More than 50 million vehicles pass through the checkpoints each year, said Border Patrol spokesperson Yolanda Choates. She declined to comment on the pilot program with Aurora.

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