A tractor-trailer outfitted with self-driving truck Otto's kit, delivered the world's first shipment which included 51,744 cans of Budweiser beer. The kit hauled the beer 120 miles along Colorado's Interstate 25 on 20 October.
According to commentators, self-driving trucks had stolen a march on self-driving cars, helped by the fact that unlike city streets, which were filled with variables including frequent stops, unpredictable pedestrians, emergency vehicles, which made a highway run relatively straightforward.
Otto, a San Francisco, California-based startup makes software and hardware kits for self-driving vehicles. The company was acquired by Uber in August and was being re-branded as Uber Freight.
The kit added cameras, LIDAR, GPS, RADAR, and other sensors to semi-trucks which turned them into level-4 autonomous vehicles. This meant they were designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip, although there still was an option for human driving.
In a blog post published on Medium, Otto explained, ''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.''
For the majority of that 120-mile trip, the truck's driver was an observer and watched the scene from the comfort of the sleeper berth. The massive 53-foot trailer filled with 2,000 cases of Budweiser can be seen in an Otto video driving down I-25 with no human at the wheel.
Otto and Anheuser-Busch, which announced the news Tuesday, have plans for more real-world autonomous truck drives in the months ahead.
"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."