In the world of technologies, excitement is mixed with confusion: last week, the first self-driving Otto truck made its 200-km journey from Fort Collins, Colorado to Colorado Springs. The first product delivered without human involvement was Budweiser beer. The choice was not as random as it might seem. Unlike the self-driving cars of Google or Tesla, these trucks have important commercial missions.
Otto — the startup behind the first autonomous truck delivery — was acquired by Uber last summer. It is an ambitious project that aims to speed up the self-driving car revolution. Otto does not produce trucks; it creates the hardware which allows for Level 4 autonomy. In other words, the driver can spend the entire drive sleeping, in the berth at the back of the truck.
Brands like Budweiser deliver thousands of beer cans every day. For them, the benefits of employing self-driving cars are irresistible. Currently, there are not enough drivers to fill open positions. However, unlike humans, trucks do not get tired or sleepy, they do not waste fuel and never complain about small wages. Since 400,000 trucks crash every year, killing around 4,000 people, the shift to the self-driving vehicle will also mean less human loss.
Unfortunately, this new innovation is a reason not only for celebration. Considering that around 1.5 million people work in the transportation industry, new technologies may result in many people losing their jobs. Otto representatives responded to the concern by claiming that self-driving trucks will not force drivers to look for a new job, at least for now. Otto technologies allow to drive independently only on highways, but when the trucks enter the city, they still need human assistance. “The nature of the work will change, but the work will still be there,” said Lior Ron, co-founder of Otto.
Most of us will hardly get the chance to drive the truck on the roads in the United States, but in today’s globalized world, it will not take long for people everywhere to start experiencing the consequences of the coming revolution. The world is going to change: self-driving cars promise to transform our economies, consumption habits, and job markets. What is inevitable is the future where stories like this will not be considered news anymore.