Here in my car I feel safest of all
Remember when everyone was freaking out about Google’s self-driving cars? I figured we were pretty far off from a driverless future based on these more than hesitant reactions, but apparently I’ve been out of the loop, because Uber just made the first autonomous truck delivery.
Last summer, Uber acquired Otto, a San Francisco startup that retrofits trucks to be smarter. As in “figure out how to drive yourself” smarter. Now they’ve teamed up with Budweiser, carting literally tens of thousands of beers across Colorado. While a human managed the city portions of the drive, the truck took over for the highway part of the route.
Not so frightening freight
Otto’s vehicles are Level 4 autonomous, meaning they can handle themselves for the most part so long as they are in a limited, safe area.
“Its technology works only on the highway, where it doesn’t have to deal with tricky variables like jaywalking pedestrians, four-way stops, or kids on bicycles,” reports Wired. “It maintains a safe following distance, and changes lanes only when absolutely necessary.”
Error 404 driver not found
This is reassuring for those concerned about ceding control of difficult driving decisions to machines (looking at you, Google). However, it’s precisely the human element that leads to high rates of accidents. Nearly all automobile accidents are a result of human error, and self-driving vehicles could cut down on these numbers.
Otto looks to drastically reduce preventable trucking accidents, at least on highways, with its fleet of autonomous vehicles. “When you’ll 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,” touts Otto’s blog.
Kick back and relax
Sensors installed on top of trucks allow a view of the road ahead while their hardware and software help the vehicle predict road conditions. Braking, steering, and acceleration are all controlled through Otto’s retrofitted system, but this automation doesn’t put existing drivers out of jobs.
In fact, right now there is a higher demand for drivers than there are qualified applicants. Otto aims to make things better for drivers in their hybrid vehicles that allow drivers to rest during long highway portions of their trips while still making money.
The future’s open wide
Uber’s foray into freighting brings advanced technology to our roads sooner than many of us expected, but don’t worry too much about the robots. We’re still pretty far from Google’s vision of a totally self-driving car future.