Who needs a team of clydesdales to deliver Budweiser? In fact, who needs a human?
A self-driving truck made the world’s first delivery — 50,000 cans of beer — using technology created by Otto, the company that Uber purchased last summer. A new story in Wired takes readers along for the ride as the age of autonomous trucking appears to be off and running.
The delivery, which took place between a brewery in Fort Collins, Colo., and Colorado Springs 120 miles to the south, showcased Otto’s ability to get a truck safely down the highway without a driver behind the wheel. The key point is highway — a real trucker took over driving duties when the semi wasn’t on Interstate 25.
Otto co-founder Lior Don told Wired that the technology will be developed over the next couple years so that it’s ready to encounter every condition on the road.
“You can imagine a future where those trucks are essentially a virtual train on a software rail, on the highway,” Don said. The vision is for self-driving trucks to handle the highway miles before stopping to get a human to handle the last few miles to a delivery point. “Drivers, in effect, become harbor pilots, bringing the ship to port,” Wired noted.
Tough to imagine Bandit and the Snowman ceding control of their beer shipment to a machine in “Smokey and the Bandit.” Then again, they were hauling Coors. And while modern truckers hopefully don’t drive the way they did in that classic movie, safety is a huge part of the push for automating the process.
The trucking industry hauls 70 percent of the nation’s freight — about 10.5 billion tons annually, Wired reports. Citing federal statistics, the magazine says some 400,0000 trucks crash each year, killing about 4,000 people. “In almost every case, human error is to blame.”