Here comes Otto, the self-driving 18-wheeler

The idea of sharing the road with self-driving cars is unnerving. But they’re nothing compared to self-driving 18-wheelers. The first such truck’s first test drive took place right here in River City … er, Colorado. It traveled down I-25 from Fort Collins, though the heart of the Denver metro, and on south to Colorado Springs. That’s approximately 120 miles on the busiest, most congested stretch of highway in the state.* And just for grins (and lots of product visibility), it was a beer run — 2,000 cases (50,000 cans) of Budweiser.

The technology was developed by a company called Otto, now owned by Uber.

Admittedly some folks might be equally unnerved by sharing the road with a 73-year-old woman driver, but be advised: If you’re afraid I might drive erratically … just wait till I discover the truck in the next lane has no driver!

*Note: Our local news this evening reported it took several months to plan the trip with the cooperation of CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation). They also said the drive was made at night, after 1 am, when traffic is light. Several CDOT cars accompanied the truck. The daylight shots in the videos were just publicity shots.

11 thoughts on “Here comes Otto, the self-driving 18-wheeler

  1. Last week I wrote and posted an article on my blog about driver-less cars, and their potential effect on employment, the premise being that thousands of drivers will be replaced, and become unemployed. I did a tremendous amount of research on the topic, and felt that I had a grasp of the issue. Your clip, however, referred to a shortage of truckers—something which didn’t turn up in my reading at all. I’m always open to new information, so will continue my research! One thing is certain about the new technology; there will be fewer accidents.

    1. I can see driverless trucks helping with a lack of drivers, but I can also imagine them putting drivers out of work and eliminating future job opportunities. — yet another example of technology taking jobs from middle and lower income workers. People whose jobs disappear can’t always “just retrain” for something else. It’s not that simple.

  2. I can imagine some circumstances where a self-driving truck might have some problems. Say, a situation where it finds itself in dense traffic in the inside lane and an exit turn coming up. If the traffic won’t let it in to the outside lane, what does it do? It does seem like a vision of the future though. Truck-driving is a job, but I don’t think it’s a good one. Unhealthy, boring.

    1. Another likely problem here that was mentioned is how they’ll operate in snowy weather, where truckers routinely have to chain up to go through the mountains on I-70, and unchain on the other side. In one of the videos I watched, the driver said he became a trucker because he wanted to see the country, so apparently some people like the job.

  3. The idea that new technology will result in fewer jobs flies in the face of history. There are almost no buggy whip makers left. But the automobile created many, many more jobs than it displaced. There are almost no long distance telephone operators. But new telecommunications have created jobs that equal a multiple of those employees many times over.

    As far as driverless trucks and cars go, I see a VERY LONG transition period before that becomes commonplace. Right now the record isn’t what I’ll call a success and the experiment is only in it’s infancy. Jim mentions only one of many problems I can imagine. Is every aspect of the vehicle and it’s surroundings being monitored? What about a vehicle malfunction… such a simple flat. Will the vehicle recognize the altered behavior for what it is, or will it over (or under) correct it’s normal driving behavior? Under that circumstance, ordinary braking and steering might likely cause a vehicle to lose control completely.

    Except for further experimenting, I’m guessing this isn’t going to happen within my lifetime.

    1. Not fewer jobs overall, but fewer jobs in the affected sectors. People not yet in the job market can plan and train for different jobs, but those already working in those sectors may be forced out. It’s not that easy to change jobs or retrain for something completely different.

      I think you’re right that we old farts will probably never be passengers in driverless cars. Maybe not even our kids. But our grandkids … who knows.

      1. There also is a societal problem if jobs for truckers diminish. Men and women who get out of jails and prisons have trouble getting employment. I know several men with criminal records who landed work as truck drivers, and it helped mightily in turning their lives around. So the present shortage of drivers does some good in this area.

        Agree with Libertarian that innovations usually result in more jobs. But the transition can be painful to those who are displaced. Also agree that any transition to robotic vehicles probably will be a lengthy process. Lots of problems to overcome.

  4. I read that yesterday in the WSJ and found it quite unnerving. Bet if I saw a driver-less truck on the road my rubber necking would be more dangerous…but still, unnerving!

    1. Glad I’m not the only one. Seeing such a truck on the road would probably be a dangerous distraction for me. Maybe they should put dummies in the driver’s seats. (A few people around here have tried putting dummies in their passenger seats to “qualify” for the multipassenger express lanes, so it might work.)

... and that's my two cents