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Beer shipment made by self-driving truck

A great deal of shipping activity here in the U.S. occurs on the nation’s roads. All kinds of goods are transported via semi truck. Currently, these trucks are helmed by human drivers. This could soon be changing, both here in California and throughout the country. Given what’s happening with self-driving technology, it is not unthinkable that we could, in the not-too-distant future, be in a world where a majority of the trucks involved in shipping are controlled by computer drivers.

Recently, a major milestone occurred in self-driving trucking. The first real-world commercial shipping of goods via a self-driving truck happened here in the U.S. last Thursday.

The self-driving truck involved in this trip was from Otto, an Uber subsidiary. The shipment was of around 45,000 cans of beer. The shipping of this beer took around two hours, over which time the truck went over 120 highway miles. The trip happened in Colorado, and police from the state monitored the trip as it progressed.

There was a driver on board the truck during the trip for monitoring purposes. However, this driver spent the trip in the truck’s sleeper berth rather than at the wheel. The entering and exiting of the highway were the only occasions in which the driver took to the wheel.

The trip went successfully and Otto received payment for shipping the beer.

This was the first self-driving truck shipment, but it certainly seems unlikely to be the last. It will be interesting to watch what happens on this front over the next several years.

Among the many things a transition to self-driving vehicles in the trucking industry could have impacts on are what investigations of cause look like when accidents involving trucks happen. Currently, one of the important things to look at in such accidents is whether the driver of the truck acted negligently. But with a self-driving truck, there would be no human driver error to look for, and such investigations might instead focus on things like whether the truck was programmed properly.

Source: Reuters, “Uber's Otto hauls Budweiser across Colorado in self-driving truck,” Alexandria Sage, Oct. 25, 2016

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