Uber subsidiary Otto Motors made the first successful delivery by a self-driving semi-tractor/trailer rig in Colorado on October 20.
The driver lounged in the big rig’s sleeper cab as the truck delivered a load of beer. The 18-wheeler successfully navigated one of America’s busiest highways Interstate 25 for 120 miles to drop off a load of beer for Anheuser-Busch InBev(NYSE: BUD); the world’s largest brewer, Bloomberg reported.
The self-driving rig was able to drive right through Downtown Denver as it cruised from Anheuser-Busch’s brewery in Fort Collins to Colorado Springs. That took it through heavy traffic and a notoriously bad Denver intersection the Mouse Trap where I-70 and I-25 intersect.
If Otto’s trucks can make that trip safely they might be capable of making deliveries in the very near future. A Volvo semi-tractor was used in the Colorado experiment.
Self-Driving Volvo 18-Wheelers
This means Uber might be ahead of Daimler (OTC: DDAIF) which has been testing self-driving trucks for the past few years. Daimler showed off a self-driving Freightliner at Hoover Dam last year but has not yet tested it hauling freight.
My guess is that Daimler will soon start staging self-driving freight hauling demonstrations of its own. An interesting possibility would be the test of a self-driving dump truck.
The next logical test for such self-driving trucks will be regular delivery service something that Anheuser-Busch wants to start soon. The brewer estimates it would save $50 million a year in the US by deploying autonomous trucks. Such trucks would enable more frequent deliveries and reduce fuel costs.
One has to wonder how the public will react to such robotic monsters cruising our roads? My guess is that some politician like Donald Trump will soon jump on the issue which is sure to generate a lot of hysteria.
Uber plans to partner with truck manufacturers to commercialize the technology. No partners are named but it looks as if Volvo is already on board.
The advent of the self-driving semi raises another logical question: when will the self-driving bus hit the road. Transit operators and bus companies are sure to start looking into the possibility.
Another major customer will be school districts which will want to put the self-driving school bus on the road. The market for self-driving school buses would be huge; there are 480,000 school buses on the road in the United States according to the American School Bus Council. They haul around 26 million passengers every school day.
The big question we will need to ask then is will people be willing to ride self-driving buses or entrust their children to them. Popular reaction will determine the future of this technology, which is now feasible.