Mission Complete: Uber's Self-Driving Start-up Makes 120-Mile Beer Runby Jana Ritter - Published: 10/26/2016
Well according to Uber, the future of trucking has arrived. On Tuesday, Uber’s autonomous vehicle company, Otto, made the first commercial delivery using a self-driving truck. The company announced the truck drove 120-miles along Interstate 25 from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, and successfully completed its first mission of delivering 2,000 cases of Budweiser beer.
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Over the last few years, Uber has been seeing beyond it’s huge success of singlehandedly changing the taxi cab business and predicting a future where not only can passengers be taken to their destination in self-driving cars but also that self-driving trucks would ultimately change the commercial trucking industry as well. Not surprisingly, the idea that robots would potentially take over human truck drivers and be able to perform all the ins and outs of the job has been a huge subject of controversy. However, last August Uber went ahead and acquired Otto, (a San Francisco start-up run by a number of veterans of Google’s long-running autonomous vehicle research program.)
While the mission itself was more of a test-drive and a driver was on board the entire time, the company says that no human intervention was needed and that the technology has proven to work well. “We think this technology is inching closer to commercial availability,” said Otto co-founder Lior Ron. “We’ve tested with trailers, of course, but there’s nothing like actually doing the real thing, end to end,” Ron said. Otto also says that while this week’s trip proved that the self-driving truck could drive in regular traffic alongside passenger vehicles without incident, the company plans to expand the pilot program and test for more types of road and weather conditions, which are major factors in autonomous vehicle route plotting.
While Uber’s goal is to become an enormous global transportation network moving pretty much anything from people to hot meals to goods in countries all over the world at all hours of the day, CEO Travis Kalanick says that he sees the future of commercial transportation using both manned and unmanned vehicles. The American Trucking Association estimated the annual trucking industry revenue topped $720 billion in 2015 and a good chunk of that total came from major companies that rely heavily on the trucking industry to transport their goods. Anheuser-Busch, which owns Budweiser, is a good example as it delivers more than a million truckloads of beer every year in the US. “We view self-driving trucks as the future, and we want to be a part of that,” said James Sembrot, senior director of logistics strategy at Anheuser-Busch.