The world’s first delivery of commercial cargo by a self-driving vehicle occurred on October 20 and the big rig was full of Colorado beer. Other drivers on the robo-truck’s route down Interstate 25—from Anheuser-Busch’s Fort Collins brewery south to Colorado Springs—may not have noticed anything different about the 18-wheeled, 53-foot trailer as it made the 2-hour journey. But Anhueser-Busch partnered with the San Francisco-based self-driving technology company Otto—recently acquired by Uber for $680 million—to spend $30,000 retrofitting the truck to make the journey.
Autonomous driving technology means that while a human driver accompanied the beer delivery, he only had to navigate the truck to the highway before turning on the self-driving mode. Otto’s hardware uses laser detection, radar bolts, and a high precision camera to do the job. It’s also compatible with any truck that has an automatic transmission. The Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado State Patrol, and a convoy of safety vehicles monitored the test.
"This milestone marks the first time in history that a self-driving vehicle has shipped commercial cargo, making it a landmark achievement for self-driving technology, the state of Colorado, and the transportation industry," Otto and Anheuser-Busch —a unit of Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev—said in a statement.
At the moment, the retrofitted Otto truck still requires a driver. The current iteration of the self-driving technology only works on the highway where it has fewer pedestrians, bicycles, and stop signs to navigate. As Wired points out, a fleet of Otto trucks would make drivers “harbor pilots, bringing the ship to port.” This also means that America’s 3 million truck drivers shouldn’t panic; Otto’s co-founder Lior Ron believes drivers will remain inside the trucks “for the foreseeable future.”
Still, autonomous trucks will drastically impact the American trucking industry, which hauls 70 percent of the nation’s freight. Self-driving trucks will be able to operate 24 hours a day without driver fatigue, a fact that could make roads safer and decrease costs. And even though the allure of self-driving cars makes for great headlines, transportation experts say that we’ll most likely see self-driving trucks like the one designed by Otto on the road long before individual cars.