If you're sipping a Budweiser somewhere in Colorado Springs, you just might have a robot to thank for that thirst-quenching brew. Last week, self-driving truck teamed with Anheuser-Busch to successfully deliver a semi-tractor full of beer from Fort Collins, through Denver and on to the southern Colorado city in the shadow of Pikes Peak.
For the majority of that 120-mile trip, the truck's driver left his seat and observed the road from the comfort of the sleeper berth. A video of the drive shows the slightly disconcerting image of a massive 53-foot trailer filled with 2,000 cases of Bud rumbling down I-25 with no human in the cab.
"The initial appeal for us was to see how we could meet the needs of a company like Anheuser-Busch," Otto co-founder Lior Ron tells USA TODAY. "But now after this successful test, we're eager to see how it will handle other roads and other weather."
The Otto landmark stands in stark contrast to the ongoing self-driving car tests by Google, Uber and Ford in California, Arizona and other states that require a safety driver to remain at the wheel in case of emergencies.
At present, states offer self-driving tech companies a patchwork of laws that, in time, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is hoping to corral into a cohesive autonomous car policy.
In Colorado, the Department of Transportation worked with Otto for a number of months evaluating the company's technology and joining on test runs before agreeing to let an Otto semi roll along without a driver in the cab.
"Safety remained our primary concern, but we believe that in this case, the driver is the automated system itself," says Amy Ford, spokeswoman for the Colorado DOT, whose Road X mission is to partner with innovative companies to help ensure that the state leads the way in the coming Otto, which was founded early this year by Google Car veterans Ron and Anthony Levandowski, was bought by Uber last August for $670 million. Uber is boosting its self-driving tech initiative with Levandowski now in charge of leading the ride-hailing giant's charge.
The concept behind Otto is to produce an aftermarket kit comprised of radar and camera sensors that, when harnessed to proprietary software, will allow the nation's 350,000 owner-operator truckers to keep their trucks on the road longer without cutting into their carefully monitored driving time.
Otto's — and Uber's — interest in cornering the trucking market doesn't need much explanation. In 2015, trucking brought in $726 billion in revenue and accounted for 81% of all freight transport, according to the American Trucking Associations.
Trucking industry advocates remain concerned about both the technology's ability to decipher every road emergency and the danger of having a driver resting or even sleeping while a truck is at highway speeds.
Concerned, caring attorneys and families remain the same. This is literally a ticking time bomb.
Liability for accidents is paramount. By way of federal law, the biggest vehicle on the road only require $750k in insurance coverage.
Lives are worth far more than that. Regardless of technology, there is no replacement for an experienced driver of these big rigs.
Yes, drivers make mistakes too. But it seems safer to have human hands on the wheel, than a computer chip doing all of the seeking, thinking, maneuvering and stopping.
WHAT DO YOU THINK????