- First time that a self-driving vehicle has shipped commercial cargo, say project partners
A pilot scheme to deliver a commercial shipment of beer by self-driving truck has seen brewer Anheuser-Busch and driverless truck-maker Otto complete the delivery of a fully-loaded trailer of Budweiser more than 100 miles across Colorado.
Travelling along the Interstate 25 highway from Fort Collins to Denver, the self-driving truck completed the route on its own, without any driver intervention.
Though a professional driver was in the vehicle throughout the journey, he was not in the driver’s seat while the truck operated in self-driving mode.
“The incredible success of this pilot shipment is an example of what is possible when you deploy self-driving technology,” said Lior Ron, co-founder of Otto.
“By embracing this technology, both organizations are actively contributing to the creation of a safer and more efficient transportation network,” said Ron.
The two companies said that they had embarked on their self-driving partnership in response to the “significant challenges” facing the trucking industry.
They hope that their self-driving technology will help to transform the industry by:
- Reducing the number of fatalities on the roads, nearly half of which occur on highways
- Enabling more fuel-efficient driving and cutting the 28% of all road vehicle CO2 emissions caused by freight trucks
- Enhancing the way trucks are used and helping to solve the driver shortage that puts pressure on drivers to work long hours at the expense of safety.
James Sembrot, Anheuser-Busch's Senior Director of Logistics Strategy, said that Otto’s vision for autonomous trucks would “shape the future of self-driving transportation”.
“As we continue to partner with long-haul carriers to ship our beers, we hope to see this technology widely deployed across our highways to improve safety for all road users and work towards a low-emissions future,” said Sembrot.
The companies said that the success of the trial proved that self-driving long-haul trucks now offer real-world opportunities that can be harnessed in the next few years.
Otto believes that one of the benefits of self-driving trucks is that drivers will be able to rest during long periods of highway driving – although questions remain as to whether the driver is ‘on-duty’ while they are resting.
The company believes that its self-driving technology could help to extend drivers’ productive hours without forcing them to choose between safety and earnings. The money truck drivers can make is currently limited by hours of service laws that restrict the number of hours drivers can work each day.
Shailen Bhatt, Executive Director at the Colorado Department of Transportation, said: “Teaming with Otto to deploy self-driving technology on the roads of Colorado is a monumental step forward in advancing safety solutions that will help Colorado move towards zero deaths on our roads.”
Bhatt said that the state would continue to work with Otto and other companies as it considered how to safely roll out self-driving technology.
In 2015, Daimler’s Freightliner Inspiration Truck became the first autonomous truck to be licensed for road use in the US.
While much of the current interest in driverless vehicles is focused on cars, commercial trucking is often seen as one of the first areas likely to benefit from autonomous technologies, thanks to the more predictable nature of much highway driving.
However, there are also longer-term concerns over the potential loss of driving jobs that could occur with a shift to fully-autonomous trucks.
For the moment, though, manufacturers are focused on the potential productivity gains from drivers handing over some of the more monotonous aspects of driving to autonomous technologies – with the driver's role evolving into one closer to that of transport manager.