Uber Plans to Steer the Future of Trucking With Self-Driving Technologyby Jana Ritter - Published: 8/20/2016
The company that has already pretty much wiped out the taxi cab industry and started an entire “Uberization” trend changing numerous other industries, now plans to take over the future of trucking.
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This week Uber Technologies Inc. announced that it has purchased Otto, a technology startup company that is in the business of making self-driving trucks. Uber CEO and co-founder, Travis Kalanick, says that Otto’s co-founder Anthony Levandowski, is a highly skilled engineer who has worked with Google on self-driving technology and is equipping trucks with software, sensors, lasers and cameras so they will be able to navigate the highway on their own. Kalanick says the merger makes them “one of the of the strongest autonomous engineering groups in the world."
This comes after Uber also announced its opening of an advanced technology center in Pittsburgh and now the company plans to open a second giant facility in Palo Alto, CA to house Otto, which will operate with the specific job of focusing on the long-distance trucking industry. "Together with Uber, we will create the future of commercial transportation,” said Levandowski. “First, self-driving trucks that provide drivers unprecedented levels of safety; and second, a platform that matches truck drivers with the right load wherever they are."
While they may have high-hopes for re-inventing commercial trucking with their technology, the reality of a self-driving revolution has already been facing speculation from the trucking industry itself and from safety experts. After a fatal crash last May involving a self-driving Tesla vehicle, federal regulators have been investigating the company for the failure of its autopilot assisted driving system on the Tesla Model S sedan.
Although Uber promotes its Otto technology as being geared specifically to improve efficiency and safety on the road and says that 90 percent of vehicle collisions are caused by human error, critics aren’t so sure. John Simpson, Privacy Project director at Consumer Watchdog has already called Uber’s Pittsburg testing facility an "outrageous PR stunt" and urges strict regulations for all self-driving vehicle technology.
"There has been no adequate demonstration that Uber's robot cars are safe. It is unconscionable for them to offer rides to passengers at this stage." He also says that Uber's move into autonomous trucks with purchasing Otto shows the company is "doubling down on its bet on robot technology, but we're simply not there yet." He also added, "Self-driving trucks, because of their size and weight, raise serious safety issues if there is an attempt to operate them intermingled with car traffic.”