The day may not be far away when autonomous vehicles shuttle us to and from work, airports, and other appointments. But the self-driving revolution also has more ambitious goals—like delivering gallons of alcohol.
Otto, a technology start-up owned by Uber, recently outfitted an 18-wheel delivery truck with self-driving equipment and sent it on its maiden voyage to make the first delivery by a sentient truck: 50,000 cans of Budweiser.
Otto launched the truck from a brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado and had a human operator navigate it to Interstate 25 before engaging the autonomous driving option at a steady speed of 55 miles per hour. Escorted by a Colorado state police vehicle, the truck then traveled 120 miles to Colorado Springs, where it idled as humans scurried to unload its contents.
The pilot test was part of an increasing paradigm shift in the trucking industry, which is burdened both by concerns over operator fatigue causing accidents and an incredible shortage of workers—it might find itself lacking 175,000 drivers in just a few years.
To help resolve each of those issues, Otto will have to navigate federal regulation that’s likely to be tough on safety expectations. And while highways pose fewer obstacle issues than populated areas with crosswalks and slowed traffic, it’s likely drivers will still be needed to shepherd them on and off freeways.
But that gets ahead of the fact that a self-driving truck just deposited a plentiful supply of beer to an entire town. To commemorate the occasion, Budweiser manufactured the cans with a label running along the bottom: “First delivery by self-driving truck.”