Skip to Content

Otto’s Self-Driving 18-Wheeler Has Made Its First Delivery

A load of 2,000 cases of Budweiser is the first cargo to be shipped by an autonomous tractor-trailer.
October 25, 2016

A truckload of beer has rolled into Colorado Springs. That may sound unremarkable, but in this case it really was the truck that did the work—the rig doing the hauling was driving itself.

Otto, the autonomous-trucking company behind the delivery, had already announced that it was going to start delivering goods to warehouses and stores as early as next year. But it appears to have beaten its own predictions.

The run was a modest one, according to Bloomberg—about 120 miles along Interstate 25, between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. But the demonstration suggests that autonomous trucks are much closer to commercial use than autonomous cars.

Not everyone might be comfortable with the advance. As Farhad Manjoo recently pointed out in the New York Times, autonomous trucks have the potential to genuinely disrupt the economy. If an 18-wheeler can make deliveries all day long, distribution networks will be transformed and drivers’ jobs lost. Such is the impact of technology on employment.

But Otto says it isn’t planning on doing away with truckers’ jobs any time soon—just changing them.

The truck that carried all those Buds had a human driver for the ride from the brewery to the highway and again for the last leg of the journey, only driving itself once it was safely cruising down Interstate 25. In an interview with Wired, Otto cofounder Lior Ron said that’s the model the company envisions, at least in the near term: humans in control for the first- and last-mile portions of the trip, and Otto’s fully autonomous system running things in between.

Like all self-driving initiatives, Otto, which was recently acquired by Uber, faces an uncertain legal landscape, because the federal government has yet to weigh in on how it plans to regulate autonomous trucking. And while it’s currently testing a small fleet of trucks on roads in California, the company hasn’t made any indication that a large-scale commercial rollout is close at hand.

Still, it may not be long until we pass a truck on the highway, look up into the cab, and see no one there.

(Read more: Wired, Bloomberg, “Uber Is Betting We’ll See Driverless 18-Wheelers Before Taxis,” “Self-Driving Trucks May Hit the Road Before Google’s Cars,” “Uber and Amazon Want to Muscle In on the Shipping Industry”)

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project
Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project

Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever

The city wants to get right what Sidewalk Labs got so wrong.

windows desktop with anime image from Wallpaper Engine
windows desktop with anime image from Wallpaper Engine

Chinese gamers are using a Steam wallpaper app to get porn past the censors

Wallpaper Engine has become a haven for ingenious Chinese users who use it to smuggle adult content as desktop wallpaper. But how long can it last?

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

Linux hack concept
Linux hack concept

The US military wants to understand the most important software on Earth

Open-source code runs on every computer on the planet—and keeps America’s critical infrastructure going. DARPA is worried about how well it can be trusted

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.