For those naysayers that claim the United States has fallen behind the times, we have some special news just for you. In a well-covered publicity stunt, a self-driving truck just delivered 50,000 Budweiser beers in Colorado.
While autonomous cars have been in the headlines lately, this marks the first time that a self-driving truck has made a commercial delivery. Welcome to the world of self-driving beer trucks, where the latest technology is bound to improve supply chains around the country.
No more drivers? Not quite…
The company behind this beer delivery, cleverly named Otto, is owned by self-driving industry leader Uber. Interestingly, the new technology is not meant to replace drivers, but instead to relieve them of their duties when they’re on the highway. In complicated landscapes like cities, truck drivers would be in control of their own rigs. Once they get on smooth and predictable interstates, they could plausibly do other things, including taking a nap while the computer steers the truck for them.
You’d think so momentous an occasion would have involved something more glamorous than 50,000 cans of Budweiser, but there it is.
The drive was as mundane as the beer in the trailer. At 12:30 am, after leaving the brewery in Fort Collins and merging onto Interstate 25, an Otto driver punched a switch labeled “engage,” and, once sure autonomous mode had, in fact, engaged, climbed out of his seat. He buckled the safety belt behind him, to keep the warning chime from driving him crazy as the truck trundled 120 miles south to Colorado Springs.
Self-driving trucks have a promising future
Trucking is essential for making our economy function, as nearly everything under the sun moves around on our interstate highways. Truck drivers are necessary actors in our supply chains, and there are apparently labor shortages that this technology could solve.
Additionally, there are hundreds of thousands of accidents involving trucks that are largely caused by human error. Exhaustion plays a huge role in contributing to these accidents, and ambitious delivery schedules often lead to substance abuse for many truck drivers.
Digitally-guided navigation on long stretches of road could reduce driver fatigue, and lead to less accidents, which currently cause thousands of deaths every year.
Evidently, Otto is a big deal because any truck with automatic transmission can be retrofitted with its self-driving technology. While the ultimate long-term goal would be completely driverless technology, for now truck drivers stand to benefit enormously from this bridge technology. But don’t get too comfortable–completely autonomous vehicles will be here faster than many of us imagine.
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