Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Uber's first autonomous semi-truck delivered 2,000 cases of beer
Last week, an 18-wheeler tractor-trailer made a 120-mile journey from an Anheuser-Busch facility in Fort Collins, Colorado, down Interstate 25 to the town of Colorado Springs. The truck carried 2,000 cases, or 50,000 cans, of Budweiser beer—an ordinary delivery for a semi-trailer, but a remarkable one considering that nobody was driving. Instead, the 18-wheeler was powered by autonomous technology developed by Otto, the self-driving truck start-up that Uber Uber bought for $700 million earlier this year. Uber and Anheuser-Busch are calling it the first-ever commercial use of autonomous trucking.
The trip marks a major step forward for Otto, which aims to automate existing commercial semis with a proprietary $30,000 kit capable of retrofitting any trucks built after 2013. The Volvo big-rig that made the maiden self-driving voyage through Colorado drove at 55 miles per hour as Colorado state police monitored the state-approved journey. Otto’s human driver took control of the vehicle once it exited the highway and entered Colorado Springs city limits.
While the delivery was partially a stunt for Uber and Anheuser-Busch, the delivery suggests a future with self-driving trucks is just around the corner. Uber has vowed to put Otto’s vehicles on the road by 2017, upending another multi-billion dollar industry and unlocking huge profits for investors. But self-driving trucks, like self-driving cabs, also promise to put a lot of people out of work. The U.S. has more than 3 million truck drivers, all of whom could ostensibly be replaced. Otto’s founders have pushed back, suggesting that rather than eliminating the need for human drivers, their technology will simply make trucking safer by letting drivers take breaks to sleep while the automated technology takes over.
"The focus has really been and will be for the future on the highway. Over 95 percent of the hours driven are on the highway," Lior Ron, the president and co-founder of Uber's Otto unit, told Bloomberg. "Even in the future as we start doing more, we still think a driver is needed in terms of supervising the vehicle.”