Driverless lorry makes late-night beer run

The Times, October 27 2016,

The lorry drove itself for 120 miles down Interstate 25, though a driver took over once it left the motorway
The lorry drove itself for 120 miles down Interstate 25, though a driver took over once it left the motorway   AFP/Getty Images

It was after midnight and the executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation was at the back of a convoy escorting an articulated lorry loaded with beer down the motorway.

“It looked like a truck going down the road. It had to respond to [traffic], vehicles passing it, merging in front of it, curves in the road,” Shailen Bhatt said. “The only thing that looked off was when you passed the vehicle and you looked in to see the driver and there was no driver.”


The future of cargo hauling may have arrived on Thursday morning when a driverless 53ft lorry travelled more than 120 miles along Interstate 25, including through the city of Denver. It was delivering 2,000 cases of Budweiser from the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Fort Collins to Colorado Springs.

“This milestone marks the first time in history that a self-driving vehicle has shipped commercial cargo, making it a landmark achievement for self-driving technology, the state of Colorado and the transportation industry,” the brewer said in a joint statement with Otto, the San Francisco-based company owned by Uber that developed the technology for the experiment.

The test run was carried out between 1am and 3am. The lorry travelled in the centre lane as part of a convoy that included four police vehicles, two tow trucks and four Otto vehicles.

The lorry was on a familiar route. It had already done the same run hundreds of times before with someone in the driving seat to survey the route.

On this occasion a driver was in the sleeper berth of the lorry to monitor the system. He was not required to take over at any point, Otto said, although he drove the truck onto the motorway and away from it.

Uber, which paid almost $700 million for Otto shortly after the company was set up in February, tested self-driving cars in Pittsburgh last month, but the technology is expected to take longer to come into widespread use than driverless lorries.

The hope is that the technology will allow long–haul drivers to sleep on main roads so that they are fresh for the more complex parts of the journey, making roads safer. About 400,000 lorries crash every year in the US, killing about 4,000 people, and human error is to blame for almost every case.

“We think that self-driving technologies can improve safety, reduce emissions and improve operational efficiencies of our shipments,” James Sembrot, head of logistics for Anheuser-Busch, said.

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