Uber made history last week when a beer-filled self-driving truck completed the first commercial cargo run.
On Thursday, the truck left Fort Collins, Colorado at 1 a.m. and drove itself 193 kilometres on I-25 to Colorado Springs (a two-hour drive) with two thousand cases (50,000 cans) of Budweiser beer in tow.
The truck — a Volvo big rig equipped with dozens of cameras and sensors — maintained an average speed of 55 mph throughout the trip.
The truck features two cameras for lane detection, a LIDAR sensor to create a 3D environment, two front-facing radar sensors to detect obstacles and other vehicles, and a GPS sensor to help pinpoint the truck’s location. A driver was also on board to assist with getting on and off the interstate exit ramps, but moved backseat with a group of transportation officials.
Budweiser paid Otto – a company acquired by Uber in August – to deliver the cases of beer to test the technology’s commercial uses.
Of course, they didn’t just stock the trailer of the truck with beer and send it on its way.
To prep, Otto sent a team and trucks to Colorado to start mapping out the roads before adding dummy trailers filled with dummy beer for road testing. After studying traffic patterns, the company determined that the best time for the shipment run was 1 a.m.
The historic beer run marks only the beginning for the company – and others that will come.
Instead of building new self-driving vehicles, Otto is designing a system that can be retrofitted onto a variety of existing trucks. Like any new technology, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in making it more efficient (each trip can’t take weeks to map out and prepare for, or it defeats the whole purpose).
But, it won’t go anywhere anytime soon. The sad reality is that before we know it, we won’t have a need for real-life truck drivers. Or, bus drivers most likely, for that matter.
So, prepare yourself for that inevitable day when you find yourself driving alongside a truck without a driver.