Historic achievements definitely calls for some beer. However, what do you call for when the achievement in question is delivering 50,000 cans of Budweiser in a truck that drove itself. No, the driver did not have a few pints from the back and gotten lucky. This was Otto — a self driving truck startup acquired by Uber, which has recently completed the first self-driven commercial delivery in history.
On October 20, an 18-wheeler Otto tractor trailer picked up 50,000 cans of beer from an Anheuser-Busch facility in Loveland, Colorado. From there, a human driver took it to a weighing station in Fort Collins. Once on the Interstate 25 highway, Walt Martin who was in the driver’s seat, pressed a switch that engaged the auto-pilot mode and climbed out of the seat and into a sleeper berth to monitor the rest of the 100-mile or so drive.
The whole drive to Colorado Springs passed without a hitch with a state trouper following the truck to monitor progress. The truck maintained an average speed of 55 miles per hour throughout the trip once it entered city limits, Martin slipped back into the drivers seat.
Speaking on the topic to Verge, James Sembrot, Senior director of logistics strategy at Anheuser-Busch, said,
There were people in Colorado Springs this weekend drinking a Budweiser that was delivered by a self-driving truck. So that’s pretty cool.
And indeed, the cans had a special message near the bottom that read “First delivery by self-driving truck.”
While Uber, which acquired Otto for a $600 million+ sum, was aware of the developments, the operation was undertaken and performed by Otto on its own.
Well, this is certainly a pivotal moment in long distance transport and logistics. The pilot for self-driven commercial delivery has been a success and Otto would undoubtedly move to test its capabilities a few more times before offering them to the public.
It should be noted that the systems provided by Otto for self-driven commercial delivery aren’t a substitute for drivers. The trucks, which are basically Volvo rigs with a lot of advance hardware and software fittings by Otto, won’t drive automatically in cities or urban areas. They are meant for highways, where things are much more straightforward, and drive does not involve complications like mobile operating pedestrians, car drivers who think this is the Formula 1 and so on.
The tech is meant for freeways and here, it can maintain a proper distance from other vehicles, drive straight and change lanes when it absolutely must — while the driver dozes in the back or does whatever else he likes.
Speaking on the topic, Otto co-founder Lior Ron said,
The technology is ready to start doing these commercial pilots. Over the next couple of years, we’ll continue to develop the tech, so it’s actually ready to encounter every condition on the road.
He also elaborated about his plans for the future, which involve making sure that truck delivery systems basically become sort of like trains running on rails for the time they are on a highway, with the driver’s job limited to piloting it once off the highway.
You can imagine a future where those trucks are essentially a virtual train on a software rail, on the highway.
Otto’s systems are a combination of hardware and software and can be integrated into any truck with automatic transmission — which actually is very cool. Along with the software, the system consists of three LIDAR laser detection units, a radar and a high-precision camera. Together, these components make your truck cruise on the highways as if they are possessed by the ghost of a very careful driver.
Meanwhile, not only do trucks freight over 10 billion tonnes annually in the US alone, the country also sees almost 400,0000 truck accidents every year. Using Otto’s self driving technology, efficiency could be increased along with a decrease in accidents. However, there are also many who are questioning the decision to give over control of truck with god knows what cargo to a computer. I mean if i was a really good hacker and i knew about this beer-laden truck, well, guess what i would be doing on the 20th of October?
However, that is probably one of the reasons why there is a human driver in the truck at all times. Considering that freight trucks spend most of their time out of city limits, systems that can take care of driving while on highways can prove to be a huge blessing for drivers as well as companies. The cost of transportation will likely see a decrease as well as the efficiency of transportation increases in parallel, as self-driven commercial delivery becomes part of the mainstream.