When a beer truck carried a load 120 miles from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs in October 2016, it delivered not only Budweiser but also progress toward a future with greater efficiency, safety — and risks.
Unlike other trucks, this one had no driver. Instead, it used sensors, GPS navigation, and a self-driving system that automotive industry leaders expect will someday be standard equipment on cars and trucks. And while this truck was accompanied by a state patrolman and technicians, someday it will be just you sharing the road with a driverless, 80,000-pound tractor-trailer.
The beer truck recently earned a place in Guinness World Records for the “longest continuous journey by a driverless and autonomous lorry” (a truck, that is), according to Tamara Chuang of The Denver Post. The tech company Otto, a subsidiary of the ride-sharing car service Uber, equipped the truck and set up the test to demonstrate its self-driving technology.
Colorado recently enacted its first law regulating self-driving systems. It requires developers to notify the Colorado Department of Transportation and State Patrol and obey applicable automotive laws. CDOT’s RoadX division is working to bring more innovation like the Otto truck to the Centennial State.
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In January, the U.S. Highway Transportation Safety Administration cleared the carmaker Tesla of responsibility in the death of an Ohio man whose Tesla Model S crashed into a tractor-trailer while driving in Florida, The Los Angeles Times reported. The car was equipped with Tesla’s driver-assist system, which still requires drivers’ continued attention. The late driver was reportedly watching a Harry Potter movie at the time of the accident involving the commercial truck. Tesla says it has developed significant upgrades to the system’s software, which would have prevented the crash.
The federal agency has investigated “dozens” of other Tesla crashes but found no defects in the autopilot system.
The Times interviewed Columbia University professor mechanical engineering Professor Hod Lipson, who said the federal agency’s ruling was “a vindication not only of Tesla but of the entire self-driving car industry.” Lipson said self-driving cars will have accidents but fewer of them than those driven by men and women. Furthermore, self-driving cars will keep getting better.
Converging Trends: Electric and Self-Driving
Otto isn’t the only name in automated cars and trucks. It seems that every major automotive manufacturer is developing automation. Tesla, which is sometimes called an industry disruptor because of its market-changing innovations, announced plans to unveil an all-electric semi-tractor truck in September.
Tesla incorporates its self-driving hardware into every car it builds, even though it can’t be activated until U.S. regulations — and litigation — clear the way for it to flip the switch. Today, the cars use the system’s cameras and sensors merely as part of a sophisticated crash-avoidance system.
Tesla’s founder, innovator Elon Musk, recently said he expects his self-driving systems to be fully capable of driving from coast to coast with a sleeping driver by 2020, tech website Elektrek.co reported.
Daimler, the parent company of truck-making giants Freightliner and Mercedes, is already locking horns with Tesla in competition for electric trucks and household batteries, Business Insider reported. And like Tesla, it hopes to have a fully capable self-driving system running by 2020.