Ottomation

An Uber self-driving truck just made its first delivery: 51,744 cans of beer

Aether Films/YouTube

Self-driving truck company Otto has had a big couple of months. The startup, founded by Lior Ron and three other ex-Google employees, is less than a year old, but made a deal with Uber in August where the company got 1% of Uber’s $68 billion valuation. And just last week, it made its first delivery with a self-driving truck.

Bloomberg reports the delivery was made up of “a tractor trailer full of beer”—51,744 cans, according to a blog post—driven down a stretch of interstate in Colorado. It marks what both Uber and Anheuser-Busch InBev say is the first commercial delivery made by a fully-automated vehicle.

Bloomberg elaborates that “[w]ith a police cruiser in tow, the 18-wheeler cruised more than 120 miles while a truck driver hung out back in the sleeper cab.” That police cruiser was present because “Uber’s Otto team worked with Colorado regulators to get permission for the delivery and to arrange for police supervision of the shipment.”

Then there’s the extra work that went into preparing the truck’s software for the journey, also described by Bloomberg:

Otto spent two weeks scoping out the driving route from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, carefully mapping the road to make sure the technology could handle it. The team wanted the trip to take place in the early morning when traffic would be relatively light and on a day when the weather was clear.

Of course, this was less of a delivery and more of a neatly choreographed ad. Ron said that the company “wanted to show that the basic building blocks of the technology are here; we have the capability of doing that on a highway.”

Self-driving trucks are basically inevitable, and when they do arrive it’ll mark a huge economic shift; as it stands, trucking is a $720 billion industry that employs millions of people as drivers alone. But Otto is still a small player when it comes to carrying freight. As it stands, it has fewer than 10 test trucks on the road.

Uber is eager to get on the road in general: the company launched its first self-driving passenger vehicles in Pittsburgh around the same time it announced its purchase of Otto in August. And while self-driving passenger cars too are inevitable, regulations surrounding them are still nascent. Self-driving truck regulations will almost certainly be just as tricky to hammer out.