After several months of testing self-driving trucks, Uber Freight has officially started moving cargo for actual customers.
Uber‘s commercial cargo shipping on-demand app is running its first official trips in Arizona with regular hauls operating both human drivers and fully autonomous trucks.
“Arizona has become a hub for testing of self-driving vehicles,” said Governor Doug Ducey. “And we welcome continued innovation and testing of new technologies.”
Uber Freight initially began testing their autonomous truck technology in early 2017. After a few months of testing, they began contracting truck companies to use its own autonomous Volvo big rigs in order to transport loads throughout several U.S. states.
The app is currently operating by loading the freight on a conventional, human driven truck who collects the load from the shipper and then does a short haul to transfer a hub. The short haul truck then has to load the cargo onto a long-haul freight transport, which is the autonomous vehicle. The self-driving truck is then sent off via the highway to complete the longer portion of the trip. Finally, the driverless truck is then handed off to another human driver who will complete the final short haul of the journey.
An Uber employee rides in the driver seat during the long haul to monitor, but not drive.
“The big step for us recently is that we can plan to haul goods in both directions, using Uber Freight to coordinate load pickups and dropoffs with local truckers,” said Alden Woodrow, Uber’s self-driving truck product lead. “Keeping trucking local allows these drivers to make money while staying closer to home.”
Uber Freight mainly handles the load sourcing for trucking companies, as well as connecting shippers with real human truckers.
The Uber Advanced Technology Group is solely deploying its autonomous trucks via the Uber Freight platform in the same way their self-driving ride sharing vehicles are used within the network.
“We’ve been really hard at work the past several months improving the technology,” Woodrow said. “We’re building something that solves problems in the industry … and also makes truck drivers’ lives easier and better.”
After facing several controversies regarding their driverless technology development, Uber has expressed its desire to move forward by competing fairly.
This initiative is spear headed by Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over the company in August after former CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick resigned in 2017.
Uber plans to have several transfer hubs via Uber Freight stationed across the country to give truck drivers to ability to connect for automated long-haul routes locally.
Human drivers are still responsible for doing the shorter urban hauls because the self-driving truck technolofy is still being developed to be able to navigate crowded cities and complex streets.
“Because we are still in research and development mode, the capabilities are changing all the time,” Woodrow continued. “In general, the trucks are pretty capable of driving on the highway, and that’s what we’re designing them for.”