A beer truck made a trip from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs. That is noteworthy, not for the route down I-25, or the beer. It was the driver, who was not at the wheel.
He was sitting back in the sleeper berth, as the big rig completed the world’s first autonomous commercial shipment by a self-driving truck.
The trailer, loaded with 51,744 cans of Budweiser beer, began the trip early last Thursday at a weigh station in Fort Collins, and ran along I-25 through Denver before wrapping up in Colorado Springs.
Anheuser-Busch says it teamed with self-driving truck maker Otto and the state of Colorado for the test. Strategy development lasted months.
The head of the Colorado Department of Transportation was in the overnight convoy early on October 20th, which wasn't publicized ahead of time.
"It was completely flawless,” said Shailen Bhatt, CDOT’s Executive Director. “It was one of the more exciting and boring things that I've ever done. I was in the 5th vehicle behind the truck and it's just like watching any other semi going down the road, except this one stayed right in the middle of its lane the whole, the whole way down."
CDOT emphasizes safety benefits. "And if we can reduce 35,000 deaths a year, which we believe this technology will help us do, then this is the path that we want to be on," said Bhatt.
The trip began shortly before 1 a.m., specifically to minimize risk and because of lessened traffic. Bhatt hopes autonomous vehicle technology will allow companies to shift more freight onto our highways during off-peak overnight hours. “Anybody who has got a fleet is going to be interested in this because the safety impacts, the fuel consumption impacts,” said Bhatt. “This is a big deal.”
Bhatt also points to market forces. “Parents like me are like, ‘I don’t want my daughter driving. I don’t want her making the bad decision that I made when I was 16. I’d rather have a computer drive her around,’” he said. “There are Americans that are aging out of the ability to drive, who still want that mobility… autonomous vehicles still provide you with the mobility.”
Bhatt said that he knows of, no other drivers called authorities to report a truck without a driver.
Anheuser-Busch says it hopes to see self-driving technology widely deployed.
Otto was recently acquired by Uber.
Copyright 2016 KUSA