The Self-Driving Truck Has Completed Cross-Country Freight Delivery for the First Time

In may sound like the plot of such horror movies as “Maximum Override” or “Trucks”, but we live in the age of Artificial Intelligence , so there is nothing supernatural about it.

No, this is not a runaway truck, and no, it is not empty. That is a conventional 18-wheeler that drives itself thanks to a 30.000-dollar retrofit. San Francisco startup, which Uber bought a year ago, made history with this truck. A couple of years ago, it completed the world’s first truck delivery carrying 50,000 cans of Budweiser from a brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, to Colorado Springs, which is 120 miles away. Hopefully, now, you know the answer to the question, “ What do automotive engineers build ?” Back in those days, the human droves the truck onto the highway, flipped on self-driving, and spent the next two hours relaxing and chilling in the backseat.

About a week ago, Plus.ai announced the successful delivery of 40,000 pounds of butter from California to Pennsylvania (2800 miles away), only stopping for mandated breaks. The trip lasted three days. For safety reasons, a driver and an operation specialist were in the cockpit all the time, getting ready to take control of the truck in case of an emergency. Fortunately, they did not need to.

Why Is It Important?

There is a saying in the industry that encapsulates how integral trucking is to the economy – “if you bought it, a truck brought it.”

The trucking in the United States is a seven hundred billion dollar a year industry, and it employs 1.8 million people. Every day such a vehicle moves 150 pounds of goods per American. Trucks make up 70% of all free volume. For such a large industry, it is plagued with a major problem – a severe shortage of drivers. As e-commerce grows, so does the need for ultrafast delivery. A report from the American trucking Association that this industry needs to hire nearly 900,000 more drivers to meet rising demand. However, technology might fix that.

How Self-Driving Trucks Will Transform the Industry?

Autonomous cars are going to revolutionize logistics. The freight companies want self-driving vehicles primarily because it will help them bring down driving cost and shipment of goods from point A to point B. And there are benefits not just in terms of price. It is about being more fuel-efficiently and able to go 2.5 times as far in a single day. Yes, this technology could save money in fuel and maintenance costs because of the consistent, efficient driving.

Being able to operate 24 hours a day instead of the legally limited 10 hours a day is going to have huge implications. We are talking about the difference between crossing the country, taking five days, and crossing the country, taking two days. It is about having trucks that are almost able to match the speed of air freight.

One of the biggest bottlenecks facing the trucking industry is a regulation on how long drivers can work. To combat fatigue, they are only able to drive for ten hours a day, but the advent of self-driving tech could make that a thing of the past. So, when you think about autonomous driving, trucking is the most logical first place to see that deployed. Safety is the simplest reason.

Amazon, in particular, has pushed forward the demand for fast deliveries. It will still be some time before the technology and regulations allow fully driverless vehicles on the road. But we are making progress. For now, the semi-autonomous technology that is being tested still requires a human behind the wheel in case they need to take over. However, driverless cars can beat autonomous cars to the roads.

First of all, it has a much more predictable route to drive because much of it is going to be on the highway. That is why you will see self-driving trucks take off much quicker than you will Robo taxis. Working on technologies for the last ones is like playing “Street Fighters” – there is an action, and you have to react to it.  Driving an autonomous truck on a highway at 65 miles per hour is like playing “Angry Birds” – you aim, you shoot, and then you wait.

Yes, self-driving transportation technologies stand to reshape commercial shipping completely. A cross-country journey of Plus.ai truck was a leap forward in demonstrating the maturity, safety, of self-driving vehicles. But it also raises a burning question – are computers actually better drivers than people?