Otto, a self-driving truck startup founded by early team members of Google’s autonomous car program and recently acquired by Uber, announced today that it “completed the world’s first shipment by self-driving cars”.

There are some nuances to the ‘autonomous level’ of the drive, but it’s nonetheless an impressive accomplishment.

Otto’s truck drove itself on the I-25 from Fort Collins, through Denver, to Colorado Springs. The driver did the driving until the truck was on the highway.

Once the truck was on the highway, the driver was able to get out of the driver’s seat and sit in the back of the truck for the entire 120 miles stretch of highway, which makes Otto’s system capable of a level 4 autonomous drive.

Through Uber’s UberFreight service, the Otto self-driving truck was transporting a shipment of Budweiser. Here’s a video the released today:

Otto hopes that its self-driving system will be used for commercial trucking as soon as next year, but truck drivers will still be an important part of the service for years to come.

As we already mentioned, the driver is still needed for non-highway roads, but also for loading and offloading and all other logistic tasks associated with truck driving. Those are likely to be automated in the future too, but for the meantime, Otto’s system will focus on making highway truck driving more secure and efficient.

In a blog post, the company described the idea behind the system:

With an Otto-equipped vehicle, truck drivers will have the opportunity to rest during long stretches of highway while the truck continues to drive and make money for them. When you’ll see a truck driving down the road with nobody in the front seat, you’ll know that it’s highly unlikely to get into a collision, drive aggressively, or waste a single drop of fuel.

Anthony Levandowski, Otto co-founder, summarized the concept in one simple sentence:

“It’s like a train on software rails”

Otto’s technology is expected to be officially deployed in Uber’s UberFreight service in 2017.

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