Otto said the truck drove for more than 120 miles along an open highway without any driver intervention ©Otto
Otto said the truck drove for more than 120 miles along an open highway without any driver intervention ©Otto

Beer shipment is first commercial delivery by self-driving truck

1 November 2016

Self-driving trucks are a step closer after a company claims to have made the world’s first commercial delivery using the technology.

Autonomous vehicle company Otto, owned by Uber, said its truck drove for more than 120 miles along an open highway without any driver intervention while making a delivery for Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch (AB).

Otto shipped of 51,744 cans of Budweiser beer from Fort Collins, Colorado, through Denver to Colorado Springs. 

AB and Otto hope self-driving technology can reform the trucking industry by reducing road fatalities and emissions. They said autonomous vehicles could provide a solution to the industry’s driver shortages by increasing the number of hours human drivers can safely work.

“By embracing this technology, both organisations are actively contributing to the creation of a safer and more efficient transportation network,” said Loir Ron, Otto co-founder. 

Otto said its system would not replace a driver, but would allow drivers to rest, and potentially even sleep, during long stretches of highway travel. This would extend the number of productive hours they could work without compromising safety.

During the AB shipment a professional driver was involved with loading and driving the vehicle when not on the highway.

However, on the highway the truck autonomously controlled its own acceleration, braking and steering while the driver monitored from the sleeper berth at the back of the cabin.

The truck used a combination of technologies including cameras, radar and “lidar” to see the road. Lidar works on the same principles as radar but uses light from lasers instead of radio waves.

The shipment was made in collaboration with the Colorado Department of Transport (CDOT) as part of its RoadX programme, which aims to use technology to improve road safety and cope with a projected increase in the number of road users.

CDOT said there were 546 deaths and more than 3,000 people seriously injured on its roads in 2015. The number of road miles travelled is expected to increase by 47% between 2013 and 2040.

“Colorado will continue to focus on working with Otto and others on how to safely deploy this technology on our roads,” said Shailen Bhatt, executive director at CDOT.

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