Here in the US, self-driving trucks are the buzz in the industry but always with the caveat ‘in the future’. But according to Budweiser and Otto, they are right here and now. Budweiser and Otto, the developer of an aftermarket add-on to enable autonomous truck driving, have together demonstrated the first commercial freight delivery by autonomous truck, shipping a trailer load of Budweiser beer through Colorado from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs.
The 133-mile (214km) journey traversed the major metropolis of Denver and hauled 51,744 cans of Budweiser beer. Over the 120-mile freeway segment of the trip, completed last October, the truck drove completely autonomously. According to Otto, the state of Colorado collaborated on the demonstration.
Otto was founded earlier this year by former employees from Google, Apple, Tesla, Cruise Automation, and others. Their goal is to turn commercial trucks into self-driving freight haulers, but instead of building its own self-driving trucks, the company is developing hardware kits for existing truck models.
By using the Otto cameras, radar, and lidar sensors mounted on the truck roof to ‘see’ the road, the add-on system controlled the acceleration, braking, and steering of the Volvo prime mover involved in the demonstration to carry the beer 120 miles from freeway onramp to exit without any human intervention, says Otto. The route was freeway all the way except for the local hauling with Otto controlling all the freeway mileage of the haul and the driver doing the local hauling on city streets.
In the short promotional video of the Budweiser truck, the driver is shown getting up from the seat and heading back in to the sleeper. Another shot inside the sleeper shows driver Walter Martin, a professional truck driver since 2007, monitoring the journey down I-25 on October 20 from the sleeper berth behind the seats. Otto says the project had full support from the State of Colorado.
This is the first time, at least in heavy truck demonstrations, that the driver has actually left the seat. Daimler Trucks, the pioneer in the technology, has always maintained the driver should be in the seat to be available to deal with any extraordinary circumstance presented in the autonomous driving mode. The same is true in Airplane cockpits: there is always a pilot at the controls and planes have had autopilots for many more years than trucks.