Wonders, they say will never cease! A tractor trailer filled with Budweiser beer cans drove itself down a stretch of highway (I-25) last week in the U.S. State of Colorado.
Uber Technologies, the company behind the self-driving truck teamed up with Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) to make the self-driving beer run in a tractor trailer.
However, there was security around the trailer (four Colorado state patrol cars and three vehicles from Otto, the Uber unit that built the technology) as it cruised down the highway of more than 120 miles, while a truck driver stayed behind in the sleeper cab in case there was problem. At this point, the self-driving vehicle appears to be a stunt, to prove that Otto, which was acquired by Uber in July could successfully put a self-driving truck on the road.
“We wanted to show that the basic building blocks of the technology are here; we have the capability of doing that on a highway,” said Lior Ron, the president and co-founder of Uber’s Otto unit. “We are still in the development stages, iterating on the hardware and software.”
AB InBev said it stands to save as much as $50m a year in the U.S. if it could deploy self-driving trucks across its distribution network, even if drivers continue to ride along to supplement the technology. Savings could come in the form of less fuel being used and more frequent delivery schedules.
However surveys in the US show that most Americans are not sold on the idea yet of sharing their roads with driverless vehicles. The death of a driver using Tesla Motors Inc’s autopilot system in May has made regulators jittery and called on more political attention on self-driving vehicles, and to pass regulations that will keep pace with technological advances. The U.S. Transportation Department, while acknowledging the usefulness of the technology in potentially saving lives, has warned of a world of “human guinea pigs.”
There is also the issue of job security in a trucking industry that employs 1.5 million people. Will the self-driving trucks threaten people’s livelihood? Otto said that the technology still has a long way to go. The self-driving truck was limited to highway, meaning truck drivers should not have to worry about losing their jobs anytime soon.
“The focus has really been and will be for the future on the highway. Over 95 percent of the hours driven are on the highway,” Ron said. “Even in the future as we start doing more, we still think a driver is needed in terms of supervising the vehicle.“