Uber on Tuesday said it is using self-driving semi trucks to augment human-driven rigs in its on-demand trucking service in the US state of Arizona. Humans pick up cargo from Uber Freight customers and drive it in trailers to transfer hubs. There the trailers are hitched onto self-driving trucks for long highway hauls, according to the San Francisco-based company.
The self-driving vehicles head to transfer hubs close to their destinations, where the trailers are hitched back onto human-steered rigs to complete their journeys. "This a big step forward in self-driving truck technology, and the future of the freight industry at large," Uber said in a release.
"This paints a picture of the progress being made towards our vision for the future of trucking; now hauling real loads in Arizona." Uber has been testing self-driving truck technology since 2016, and began using autonomous rigs for hauls late last year.
Uber claims to have made the first commercial shipment ever by self-driving truck when it hauled a trailer full of Budweiser beer some 120 miles of highway in Colorado. New-comer Embark last year began using self-driving trucks to haul refrigerators from a warehouse in Texas to a distribution center in southern California.
Uber Freight is a free app that lets shippers book truckers with ease similar to how people can summon Uber car rides. "Much like what we do with our self-driving Ubers in Pittsburgh and Phoenix, we are developing our self-driving truck product by deploying it to the Uber Freight network and fulfilling hauls for real customers," the company said.
Package and shipping company UPS announced in December that it will buy 125 of Tesla's all-electric semi trucks, the largest such order since the vehicle was unveiled a month earlier. The order by UPS, one of the biggest operators of commercial trucking fleets, came on the heels of a PepsiCo announcement two weeks ago to buy 100 of the Tesla trucks.
Tesla, Google, and Uber are among technology and auto industry companies pursuing autonomous-vehicle technology, which has been touted as having potential to save fuel, ease congestion, and make transportation safer.