Just two months ago, Uber bought a start-up called Otto whose business was making self-driving trucks. It was a fitting addition to Uber’s autonomous vehicle lineup. Just this week, the autonomous truck made it’s first delivery: with 50,000 cans of Budweiser. It’s a momentous occasion perfectly complemented by drones delivering burritos.
The white 18-wheeler truck, refitted with Otto’s $30,000 hardware and software, made the 120-mile delivery to Colorado Springs on autonomous mode along Interstate 25. According to Wired, the truck left brewery in Fort Collins and as soon as it entered I-25, driver Walt Martin simply hit a button labelled “engage” and left the seat. The truck took it from there.
Otto co-founder Lior Ron is confident that their trucks are ready. “The technology is ready to start doing these commercial pilots. Over the next couple of years, we’ll continue to develop the tech, so it’s actually ready to encounter every condition on the road.”
The current version works strictly on the highway, devoid of unpredictable pedestrians, four-way stops, kids on bicycles, or other more tricky factors.
What sets Otto’s system apart from, say, Tesla’s autopilot is true Level 4 autonomy. The hardware of three LIDAR detection units, bumper radar, and a high-precision windshield camera keeps it “aware” of what’s happening around it. The system’s so good the driver can safely take a nap behind the wheel.
Pretty soon, long haul truck drivers can do other things while on the job — assuming they’d still be needed. Yes, the transformation of jobs due to advancements in artificial intelligence and robot technology is like a shadow looming behind every development.
Still, it’s undeniable how autonomous vehicle technology has the potential to transform society. We have cars, boats, factory workers, and now trucks that can do the work for us. We can’t (and shouldn’t) be too wary of technology. Besides, there’s a future of new jobs for human beings ahead.