Uber has announced that it has begun using its self-driving trucks to haul goods on Arizona’s highways. The trucks continue to have a human driver behind the wheel as a backup to take control of the vehicle as needed.Uber plans for these trucks to operate without a human present.
In October 2016, it used an autonomous truck to complete a Budweiser delivery in Colorado. But Uber’s latest step brings it much closer to tapping into the potential of autonomous technologies.
In Arizona, the company is limiting the self-driving trucks to operating on highways, an easier challenge than driving on local roads. And its trucks don’t need supervision from government officials, as was the case in Colorado. Arizona regulators welcomed autonomous technology to the state in 2015.
Uber’s trick to making the self-driving trucks useful today is using transfer hubs, where a conventional truck and self-driving truck exchange loads. This system allows the self-driving truck to operate only where it’s effective — for now, highways.
Self-driving trucks have become a hot issue, especially given concerns over their disruptive impact on employment.
Wendell Wallach, a senior adviser to the Hastings Center and author of “A Dangerous Master: How to Keep Technology from Slipping Beyond our Control,” warns that shifting to fully autonomous trucks over a 10-year period would average out to 14,000 truckers losing their jobs a month.
But the trucking industry itself is less concerned. According to Chris Spear, CEO of the American Trucking Associations, there is a shortage of 50,000 drivers that will double in the next five years. He doesn’t believe the 3.5 million truckers in the U.S. will be out of work anytime soon.