Driverless truck delivers 50K cans of Bud on supply run

Discussion
Photo: Anheuser-Busch
Oct 26, 2016
George Anderson

One 120-mile beer delivery does not make driverless trucks a done deal, but it certainly raises the prospect that it could be in the not too distant future. As widely reported, an 18-wheeler owned by Otto, an automated trucking company acquired by Uber in August, picked up 50,000 cans of Budweiser from an Anheuser-Busch facility in Loveland, CO and delivered the load to its destination in Colorado Springs. A human driver navigated the vehicle into a weigh station in Fort Collins and from there the truck completed the remaining 100 miles of the trip on its own.

“There were people in Colorado Springs this weekend drinking a Budweiser that was delivered by a self-driving truck,” James Sembrot Sr., senior director of logistics strategy at Anheuser-Busch, told The Verge. (The cans included a message that they were part of the “first delivery by self-driving truck.”)

Transportation officials in Colorado were pre-briefed on the trip and a state police officer followed the vehicle on its journey. The truck, which maintained an average speed of 55 miles per hour, remained safely within its lane as it made its way to Colorado Springs.

One of the primary goals of the technology, according to those involved in the pilot, is to reduce injuries and fatalities on the road.

According to a joint release put out by the participants in the test, automated trucks will give drivers the ability “to rest during long stretches of highway, and perhaps even catch up on sleep.” Because laws limit the amount of hours drivers can work on a weekly basis, the automated trucking technology offers an opportunity for them to be on the road longer without sacrificing safety.

Another benefit is improved fuel efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions.

“Anheuser-Busch is passionate about innovation and exploring ways to improve the safety, sustainability, and efficiency of the industries our business touches …” said Mr. Sembrot. “As we continue to partner with long-haul carriers to ship our beers, we hope to see this technology widely deployed across our highways to improve safety for all road users and work towards a low-emissions future.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What role do you see for automated trucks in the retail supply chain? How long before this form of commercial delivery becomes commonplace? Do you see downsides?

Braintrust
"Clearly this is the future of large scale merchandise delivery. "
"I would not worry about putting drivers out of work. The problem is there are not enough drivers to fill the need."
"More than a million drivers are in peril of getting disrupted right out of work in a very short period of time in the U.S. alone."

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25 Comments on "Driverless truck delivers 50K cans of Bud on supply run"

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Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Technology is taking us to where The Jetsons were 54 years ago. This will happen and it is only a question of when. Combined with cars that drive themselves, highway safety should increase dramatically and fatalities on the highways will be minimal if not eliminated (surface streets are a different story). The downside is that breakdowns in unmanned vehicles have to be monitored, reported and attended. Furthermore, those who used to drive trucks for a living will be phased out and re-training will once again be necessary.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Hey Bob, was it really 54 years ago that the Jetsons were on TV? Not that I know what a Jetson was …

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

September 23, 1962 … I looked it up! ( … and you do know what a Jetson was … )

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Clearly this is the future of large scale merchandise delivery. Everything moves to retailers via truck and much of the hauling is long distance from supplier to warehouse. Automating the process will ultimately add speed to the supply chain and reduce costs. If logic prevails, safety will also be a benefit.

The unspoken issue is jobs for truck drivers. There are something like 3.5 million drivers in the U.S. and these types of systems will devastate the need for long-haul truckers, especially those that work for large carriers that adopt these technologies. And they won’t be able to become forklift drivers — that is being automated too.

Sterling Hawkins
BrainTrust

It’s a relatively short amount of time before semi-autonomous trucks become commonplace. We’re moving towards a driverless world and the trucking industry represents low hanging fruit with their long-hauls and predictable routes.

Otto goes out of their way to include truck drivers as part of their vision to both monitor the vehicle as well as take control on surface streets. Fully autonomous vehicles are coming; however, drivers will still be included in the short to mid-term.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

I disagree on one point: trucking companies and retailers with fleets are not going to invest in the technology if they believe that they will have to pay drivers to make the trip anyway. Of course drivers will need to be there through the transition years, but there is no “monitoring” when something goes wrong. In reality, unless they are in the driver’s seat (not that way in the video!) and a fraction of a second away from taking full control, they won’t add any true safety factor.

Certainly every autonomous vehicle company is going to claim a driver needs to be actively present to minimize liability claims and forestall regulation.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

What astounds me is that this entire process of driverless vehicles is moving so quickly. We have driverless Uber in Pittsburgh and it is soon to be in Detroit. WOW!

But driverless trucks make even more sense as outlined in the article. Imagine, doubling the time a truck can be on the road. And while this truck moved along perfectly at 55 miles per hour, the safety of a driverless truck could permit a safe increase in the speed limit on trucks.

I can not speak to the technology, but from a business point of view it is all good.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

I’m not thrilled about having a semi behind me when the driver has decades of experience. I’m less thrilled about having a semi behind me with nobody in the driver’s seat.

At some point (probably in the near future) driverless trucks will be everywhere … but there’s plenty we don’t know about these vehicles, and we should move ahead deliberately and carefully.

Tom Redd
Guest

Cathy — just speed up, problem solved. Driverless truck gets hacked — you have a problem.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust
11 months 21 days ago

Yea, the world moves a little closer to being a safer place to live. In reality we already have air planes that fly themselves. I don’t think that trucks are far behind.

Right now I would not worry about putting drivers out of work. The problem is there are not enough drivers to fill the need. Even if trucks can drive themselves we will still need someone to load and unload them.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Obviously, driverless trucks offer industry — and the public — many upsides. There is an ongoing shortage of qualified long-haul drivers. And truck driving is one of the few high-paying jobs still open to people without a college education. Driverless trucks also solve the problems of fatigued drivers, drivers who have been drinking, and/or drivers taking drugs to stay awake. And that’s not even factoring in the billions of dollars in wages and benefits that can be removed from supply chain costs. So, on balance, the future should look bright for autonomous trucking. But there is a downside. Widespread adoption of driverless trucking could idle tens of thousands of American workers — workers who will have no place else to turn to. Also, machines fail, and while no one wants this to happen, it seems almost inevitable that a driverless vehicle (car or truck) will be involved or cause a significant accident. What public opinion and regulators will make out of that could determine the future of driverless vehicles.

Tom Redd
Guest

Forget this tech world marketing scam. The point is, WHAT IS THE NEED? Use technology to help keep cars safer but why must they not have a driver? To cut DUI rates? All of this is a worthless focus point for real tech. Put the money in areas that need it — R&D for health, etc. Uber and regular taxis are fine. I myself like to drive or ride my motorcycle. I hate being a passenger. It is a WOW thing that is just for people or markets that need that wow factor which asks no real questions. Based on weather and other elements — like hackers — you will not see a huge drop in accidents. Unmanned vehicles are not and will not be safe — ever. OK, in 55 years maybe.

Larry Negrich
BrainTrust

Having 80,000 pounds of cargo roaring down expressways across North America in driverless trucks is something that should require long test periods to guarantee roadway safety. On the jobs front, this certainly will have an effect on jobs. I would expect the Teamsters and other organizations representing truck drivers to get involved and address this issue to protect its members in the short- and long-term.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

My understanding is that at this time drivers need to be in the trucks and monitoring the situation as the vehicle goes down the streets. If that is true drivers are not sleeping or resting. If the vehicle behaves successfully, the drive is very boring for the drivers making it difficult to stay awake and aware. Driverless vehicles are happening, testing is happening. So far there have still been a few accidents. Since all computers have glitches at times, accidents will happen. The question is, will the accidents be less often and less severe than with regular trucks?

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

I think there’s a difference between “driver-assisted” and driverless. I can’t imagine a semi with no one in the cabin at all. We all know that software is always bug free and completely reliable. Imagine that semi rolling down the road with a “blue screen” from yesterday’s automated update. Trains still have “operators” (and still have accidents).

Tony Orlando
BrainTrust

High-techies love this and it seems almost surreal to me but it will move forward for sure. Labor is the one cost that companies feel they can save by using technology to eliminate manpower and, yes, there will be fewer jobs as a result. My concern, as mentioned above, is when the brakes fail on a semi heading down a hill with a full load, and the consequences of this will be devastating, like a train plowing through an intersection.

We simply can not stop innovation, good or bad, and jobs will continue to shrink. Constant retraining will become the norm as new jobs will open up, requiring much higher skills, and blue collar jobs will continue to shrink, adding to our already bloated unemployment levels. I still remember our family doctor coming over to the house when we needed him, and that too is gone. Change is constant and we must adapt, even if we don’t like it.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I am not sure what to think about this. Yes, technology can and will do things we can’t even imagine today. Driverless vehicles are unfathomable to me, especially a tractor trailer. If I look in my rear-view mirror I would be happier seeing a driver at the wheel. But I am not that naïve to think it is not a possibility in the future. One test drive is impressive. But it does not open the doors to having it as a reality today or tomorrow. Can you imagine what our parents or grandparents would think if they saw this during their lifetime?

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

The point of technology is that it takes inputs and applies action to produce outcomes based on some governing principles. Getting it wrong brings tragedy at the per-unit level, while getting the benefits requires large-scale deployment. Let us endeavor in all technology applications that the failures that do occur as advancements are being made offer insights to rapid progress. Google’s self-driving cars, for example, have had to address the problem of the vehicles being hit by driver-operated vehicles.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

I’d like to share the travel-ways with an IBM Watson as auto-pilot and a Captain Sullivan in the pilot seat. Let us have no doubt that the world is moving to Watson with a heavy dose of an actuarial view of acceptable margin for error.

Al McClain
Staff

The role of automated delivery is becoming more commonplace, and the pace will pick up. I have no doubt we’ll see lots and lots of driver-less trucks and cars on the road, sooner than later. The two big downsides: 1. Jobs, or lack thereof. If you think the under-educated are mad now, just wait. 2. There will be errors, glitches, and hacks. What happens when a whole fleet’s computer system goes down due to error, or worse, a hack? Nothing good.
But, all of this will be overcome and we will become a more and more automated society. Then, what do us humans do? Contemplate, I guess.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

I was just reading that the replacement of truck drivers with driverless vehicles in the near future was going to be one of the largest mass layoffs in history. More than a million drivers are in peril of getting disrupted right out of work in a very short period of time in the U.S. alone.

But just like taxi drivers getting replaced by the much more customer-friendly Uber experience, maybe the idea of driverless trucks will create a better standard for the drivers that remain. Like driving the speed limit, staying out of the left lane, being more courteous and getting more rest to prevent sleep-dep accidents, just to name a few. Let’s hope so.

One thing’s for sure though; for us “civilian” drivers, going cross-country will certainly be much easier. Here’s to disruption.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Yay! About time! This is just the beginning. I predict that within five years we will see a decent percentage of long haul deliveries made with driverless trucks. We’ll also see local deliveries. Downside is that relationships between the drivers and the customers will be lost. And, of course there is the job issue.

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

On one hand, this could be a tremendous plus in terms of productivity and potentially a positive when it comes to safety. On the flip side, will it really be safer? Will there be hacking that results in accidents and stolen merchandise? And then there are the loss of jobs. While I do believe this will come to pass and technology is moving so quickly that it will be there sooner than later on a more mass scale, at the same time I can’t imagine governmental bodies will allow this to move along quickly. I am all for it once safety is fully vetted — who wouldn’t want to make better use of their time than driving in rush hour!

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

Technology will change transport logistics as technology improves. We went from rail to 18 wheelers, and the ability for trucks to handle long distance driving along highways will help reduce driver fatigue. I don’t think the technology is there yet for end to end driverless delivery, but if it allows the drivers to rest during the long boring drives along the freeway, so much the better.

Bill Hanifin
BrainTrust

No matter was pre-disposed opinions I may hold regarding the potential of self-drivers, I have to respect the results of this successful test. The goal of using the technology to provide the human driver relief and extend his/her driving time can add to productivity for over-the-road truckers.

I hope the goal is to use the technology to supplement the human “leadership” of the machine rather than replace the human altogether. My comment should not be interpreted as being scared of the technology. It is in recognition of the gradual process that should be adopted in implementing these changes.

Public safety is too important to be in a hurry here. Using the tech to add to drive productivity makes sense and this test is a strong step forward.

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Braintrust
"Clearly this is the future of large scale merchandise delivery. "
"I would not worry about putting drivers out of work. The problem is there are not enough drivers to fill the need."
"More than a million drivers are in peril of getting disrupted right out of work in a very short period of time in the U.S. alone."

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