Self-Driving Is Here, Starting With Long Haul Trucking

Self-Driving Trucks

Truck Transit is Necessary and Often Dangerous.

It was one of those accidents that make you shudder: The actor Tracy Morgan’s van was slammed into by a tractor trailer on the New Jersey Turnpike, killing comedian James McNair and critically injuring several passengers. Morgan himself took a year to recover. And the cause of the accident? Driver fatigue.

It’s estimated there are 400,000 truck crashes each year resulting in about 4,000 deaths. I don’t know about you, but I get a little bit nervous when I’m surrounded by 18-wheelers speeding down the interstate.

But think about it: trucks on our highways deliver 70% the things around us, from food to furniture, clothing and more. This means there’s a HUGE number of trucks on the road at any given time, and with varying weather and road conditions, traffic congestion and more, drivers face long hours, fatigue and distraction. Add to that the traffic jams and wasted fuel that heavy traffic and accidents cause and it’s clear that we need a better solution.

Self-Driving Trucks

Otto and Budweiser team up for the first self-driving truck delivery. Photo: Otto

Help is on the way for truckers

In January of 2016, the Otto team, Lior Ron and Anthony Levandowski, set out to lower the incidences of accidents involving trucks by developing a technology that would use radar, cameras, and lasers to allow the trucks to safely drive themselves. This duo was no stranger to cutting edge technology as Levandowski was part of the Google self-driving car team and Ron was project lead on the Google Maps team. This past August, Uber acquired the company for a reported $680 million.

Otto doesn’t actually make its own trucks, rather it manufactures kits that can be installed on existing trucks. By the August acquisition, Otto had already converted five Volvo 780 semis into self-driving vehicles and was testing them on highways.

At the end of this past October, Otto announced that they had completed their first commercial delivery which happened to be 2,000 cases of Budweiser beer. The load took a 120 mile trip on I-25 from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs. Personally, I think they should have chosen wine to start, but boys (and some girls!) do love their beer. Watch this truck delivering the 500,000 Budweiser beers.

Truckers Are Still In Charge, They’re Just Getting Some Relief

While many are leery of trucks making completely unsupervised trips (as well they should be) and fear the autonomous truck may replace human drivers, Otto assures us that this technology is more for the comfort and safety of the truck driver than to replace him or her. It is meant to only be used on highway stretches where there are no traffic lights or pedestrians to contend with. The hope is to provide a technology that would allow long distance truckers to grab some sleep during some of the more routine stretches of their haul. However, there may still be some hurdles to overcome in the form of state regulations before we see these on all 220,000 miles of US highway.

Self-Driving Trucks

Would this make you nervous? A truck without a driver behind the wheel. Photo: Otto

As you’re ordering all those holiday gifts on Amazon Prime this season, remember there’s a trucker somewhere who is going to be hauling those good to your distribution center. How he or she would feel about a little help along the way?

Maureen Fitzgerald, aka Wisconsin Mommy, is a Milwaukee based influencer and social media junkie. She loves sharing tips, tricks... More about Maureen Fitzgerald