The autonomous trucking service Otto pulled into Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Tuesday, successfully making the world's first truck delivery sans driver. The cargo? 51,744 cans of Budweiser beer. We'll drink to that — after all, we won't be driving.
Otto, which is owned by Uber, launched in January and now has a fleet of six semi-trucks — all complete with autonomous “Level 4” capability. This means the vehicle can effectively drive itself on the highway with no human piloting (although laws do require that a human be present). Once the rig hits the interstate, it’s entirely capable of maintaining speed, direction, and lane position. By using cameras, radar, and LIDAR sensors mounted on the vehicle to “see” the road, any humans on board are free to deal with work, check their phone, or even sleep while the truck maintains a safe following distance, and changes lanes only when absolutely necessary.
Unlike Tesla’s all-encompassing Autopilot technology, Otto is focusing on the basics of autonomous highway driving — like smoothing out acceleration and braking transitions while on the long straight road. The more refined, go-anywhere type of driving is still a ways off. Otto isn’t prepared to have a 40-ton rig navigating the obstacles of pedestrian walkways, four-way stops, or right-on-red turns.
For the historic Budweiser delivery, Otto made the entire 120-mile journey down I-95 from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Colorado Springs without Walt Martin, the professional driver at the helm, leaving the sleeping berth of the rig. And Otto hopes this is just the beginning for safer, more sustainable trucking practices, according to a statement released on their blog:
“This shipment is the next step toward our vision for a safe and productive future across our highways. With an Otto-equipped vehicle, truck drivers will have the opportunity to rest during long stretches of highway while the truck continues to drive and make money for them. 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.”
As long as you don’t waste a single drop of the beer, either, we’re on board.