It may just be the most futuristic beer run in history. This week, Uber’s self-driving trucking startup, Otto, made its very first commercial delivery without a human behind the wheel: 50,000 cans of Budweiser.
Inspired by Uber’s recent forays into self-driving cars and impressed by the progress of Otto’s autonomous trucks, Anheuser-Busch partnered with Otto for this historic shipment. The beer giant delivers more than a million truckloads of beer per year in the United States alone, and a switch to self-driving 18-wheelers could help make the company’s logistics run more smoothly and keep costs down.
For the maiden voyage, a semi truck equipped with a $30,000 Otto technology upgrade transported beer from Fort Collins, Colo., to Colorado Springs—a 120-mile journey along busy Interstate 25. Throughout the trip, the truck drove alongside conventional vehicles without issue. (No word whether nearby drivers freaked out when they saw an empty driver’s seat!)
Though the truck piloted itself throughout the journey, Walter Martin, a professional truck driver, remained on board to monitor the vehicle’s progress. But after navigating the truck onto the highway and pressing a button to activate its self-driving features, Martin moved to the back seat and enjoyed the ride. Amazingly, at no point did he feel the need to take over driving. “I [told] one of the technicians, ‘I don’t think I could have done that better myself,'” says Martin. “That was an interesting moment.”
If he was worried about being replaced by a robot truck, Martin didn’t let on. Of course, drivers would still be needed to manage pickup and delivery tasks such as loading, unloading and securing freight in the trailer. But removing human error, which Anheuser-Busch states is responsible for 97 percent of vehicle crashes, could save lives and money. After all, beer truck mishaps are definitely not uncommon. Read about some previous incidents below:
Curious about the technology behind self-driving trucks? Wired’s video shows all.