Self-Driving Truck’s First Mission Is ‘Grab Some Buds’: Budweiser Employs Autonomous 53-Foot Trailer To Make Beer-Run

A self-driving truck made its first commercial delivery: 2,000 cases of Budweiser beer. The beer company, owned by Anheuser-Busch, tied up with Otto, a self-driving truck maker owned by Uber, to make the extra-long 120-mile beer-run.

It appears the self-driving truck’s first mission was to “grab some Buds,” as Budweiser employed the autonomous prototype vehicle by Otto to make a rather long beer run from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Colorado Springs. For the majority of the distance, the truck’s designated driver watched cautiously as the truck steered its own way through interstate traffic on Interstate 25.

Anheuser-Busch confirmed it had successfully completed the world’s first commercial shipment by self-driving truck. Otto, the Uber-owned self-driving vehicle operation, announced the completion of the delivery using tractor-trailer that was filled with roughly 2,000 cases or 50,000 cans of beer. The autonomous beer truck made the 120-mile journey through Colorado and successfully reached its destination without extensive inputs from the designated driver. The truck began the self-driving trip at a weigh station in Fort Collins, Colorado, and ran along Interstate 25 through Denver, before winding up in southern Colorado city in the shadow of Pikes Peak., reported U.S. News.

The professional truck driver employed by the company was present in the cabin the entire duration of the trip. However, he served as a mere observer and monitored the trip while relaxing on the sleeper berth. For the majority of the trip, the driver wasn’t even sitting in the driver’s seat. A video, recorded by Otto, shows a slightly unnerving footage of a massive 53-foot trailer filled with 2,000 cases of Budweiser beer traveling on I-25 without a single human in the cabin.

Speaking about the development, Otto co-founder Lior Ron said, “The initial appeal for us was to see how we could meet the needs of a company like Anheuser-Busch. But now after this successful test, we’re eager to see how it will handle other roads and other weather.”

Will Budweiser slowly replace its trucks and drivers with such autonomous vehicles in the near future? Interestingly, Otto’s self-driving technology is ready to hit the roads. However, it is currently limited to highways. Perhaps it has something to do with wide lanes and rather disciplined traffic. Once the trucks enter city limits, a driver has to take over and maneuver the large truck through the congested city traffic which, needless to say, has its own fair share of unpredictability.

Incidentally, Otto’s parent company Uber had recently predicted a future wherein passengers would have to merely summon a driverless car and instruct it about the desired destination. However, the concept of autonomous commercial trucking is not only fairly new, it is fraught with multiple challenges that four-wheelers do not face. While self-driving vehicles are already drawing heavy criticism for replacing humans and snatching away livelihoods, autonomous trucks draw a lot of ire from truck drivers. However, skepticism hasn’t deterred Otto and Anheuser-Busch, as the duo has announced to add real-world autonomous truck drives in the months ahead, reported USA Today.

Otto was founded early this year by Google Car veterans Ron and Anthony Levandowski. However, it was bought by Uber last August. The app-based taxi hailing service paid $670 million for the nascent company because it is investing big in self-driving tech, and Otto’s self-driving trucks offer a great opportunity to grow in an entirely new business.

Interestingly, Otto’s approach to autonomous driving involves a retrofitting kit. Essentially, the company plans to produce an easily purchasable and installable aftermarket kit. The kit would be comprised of strong radars, detailed camera sensors as well as components that drive the truck with minimal to zero human intervention. When coupled with the company’s proprietary self-navigation and obstacle avoidance software, the trucks would become autonomous with minimum downtime.

Logistics in America is largely driven by trucks. According to the American Trucking Associations, trucking generated $726 billion in revenue and accounted for 81 percent of all freight transport last year. Beverages made by Anheuser-Busch Inbev travel an estimated 450 million miles a year to reach their destination. Hence, a beer truck might be just the beginning for commercial self-driving vehicles.

[Featured Image by David McNew/Getty Images]