Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 53° Cloudy
News >  Business

Beer run! Uber’s self-driving truck makes its first commercial delivery

This October 2016 photo provided by Anheuser-Busch shows a self-driving truck that delivers beer. (Kyle Bullington / Associated Press)
This October 2016 photo provided by Anheuser-Busch shows a self-driving truck that delivers beer. (Kyle Bullington / Associated Press)
By James F. Peltz Los Angeles Times

The first commercial shipment by a self-driving truck was a beer run.

Uber Technologies Inc.’s self-driving trucking unit, Otto, said Tuesday it partnered with brewing giant Anheuser-Busch Cos. to carry 51,744 cans of Budweiser on a shipment through Colorado.

“Yes, you can go out right now and buy a can of beer that was shipped by a self-driving truck,” Otto said.

With “full support from the state of Colorado,” Otto said, the white-and-red truck traveled from Fort Collins down Interstate 25 to Colorado Springs last Thursday “exit-to-exit without any human intervention.”

“Our professional driver was out of the driver’s seat for the entire 120-mile journey down I-25, monitoring the self-driving system from the sleeper berth in the back,” Otto said.

Otto, started by former Google engineers and executives, was acquired in August by San Francisco-based Uber, which sees self-driving vehicles as the future not only for ride-sharing and deliveries but also for larger shipments by truck.

The company frames the idea this way: The trucks could stay on the road for longer periods while their drivers rest. But there are concerns that trucks without human hands at the wheel eventually could mean fewer jobs for the 1.7 million truckers currently working in the United States.

Trucking is a good candidate to be the first type of driving to be fully automated. One reason is that long-haul big rigs spend most of their time on highways, which are the easiest roads to navigate without human intervention.

But there’s also a sweeter financial incentive for automating trucks: Trucking is a $700 billion industry, in which a third of costs go to compensating drivers. Eliminating drivers would mean big savings.

Otto uses a system of cameras, radar and laser-based lidar sensors that control the truck’s acceleration, braking and steering.

Seeing a big-rig truck without anyone in the front seat can be a bit jarring. But Otto contended that when motorists “see a truck driving down the road with nobody in the front seat, you’ll know that it’s highly unlikely to get into a collision, drive aggressively or waste a single drop of fuel.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.