Remember Uber’s autonomous trucking aspirations? The company just had a successful run, with one of the self-driving trucks making a beer run in Colorado without a human driver at the wheel. Anheuser-Busch InBev NV partnered with Uber Technologies to make this happen, tacking its name onto what turned out to be a world’s first…at least as far as commercial goods shipments are concerned. The entire trip was more than 120 miles in length.
Of course, the truck wasn’t just set loose on Colorado’s I-25 highway and left to its own devices. While it did all the driving itself, there was a human operator in the back of the truck’s cab ready to take over if an emergency happened. As well, a police cruiser followed the truck from behind the entire trip.
The delivery run was used to transport a bunch of beer to its final destination, but that’s not the most important part of the story: by successfully pulling off the run, Uber has demonstrated the feasibility of such technologies to an industry that, at this point, is still largely wary of what it has to offer.
Self-driving trucks such as these are hailed as a potential way to save many tens of thousands of dollars in transportation costs. Because these trucks depend on many integrated technologies and GPS navigation, they may also be more efficient than human drivers, cutting down on both fuel consumption and emissions. Human drivers won’t be entirely out of work, though, as they’ll likely still have to hitch along on the trips for the foreseeable future.
Of course, these trucks aren’t out in any significant numbers at this point. Uber and its Otto division are still developing and refining the technology. As well, many cities have not yet even began the process of establishing rules for self-driving technologies, one of the biggest road blocks at this point.
That hasn’t stopped Uber from heavily investing in autonomous tech. The ridesharing company has tapped experts in the field and funded what is increasingly a fruitful research project. The company’s self-driving cars began real-world driving tests earlier this year, for example. The future Uber paints with this is one in which human drivers are largely or entirely removed from the equation, instead enabling autonomous vehicles to pick up passengers all on their own.