Skip to Content

Uber Freight Is the First Step to Automating Away Truckers

First: matching haulers to jobs. Next: leveraging that network to build out fleets of autonomous 18-wheelers.

Want to move truckloads of stuff across the country? There’s now an app for that.

Uber has finally unveiled the much-anticipated freight-hauling counterpart to its regular ride-hailing service. Uber Freight, as it’s known, will pair commercial shippers with independent truck drivers looking for a job, just like riders find drivers in so many cities.

Much like the taxi service before it, Uber’s promise here is to remove friction from the current system. In a blog post announcing the new service, the firm bleats about how drivers will be able to pick up jobs with a simple search and some button presses, rather than spending “several hours and multiple phone calls” trying to achieve the same end in the past.

Uber will also determine fees—and, yes, it will use surge charging—which in the past truckers have usually done for themselves. Drivers will no doubt be happy to hear that they’ll get paid faster this way—within seven days, rather than 30 or more, which is common right now. But it remains to be seen if drivers will be satisfied with the pay they manage to take home when working for Uber. If the company's track record in the ride-hailing business is anything to go by, tensions may arise.

But there is a larger narrative at play here. Uber’s move into shipping came after it acquired the autonomous truck company Otto last summer. And that sector is maturing quickly: while the trucks make use of similar technology to that being used by the autonomous cars being developed by Uber and Waymo for robotic taxi fleets, they also only have to contended with highways. That's far easier than inner-city driving.  

Otto even made its first delivery—a 120-mile dash along Interstate 25 carrying 2,000 cases of Budweiser—last year. In fact, we made self-driving trucks one of our 10 breakthrough technologies of 2017, because they look set to beat autonomous cars to the asphalt in large numbers.

For now, Uber Freight will be busy coördinating swift, competitively priced deliveries in an attempt to make itself as invaluable to people that shift freight as regular Uber is to city-dwellers. Once the trucking network is established and Otto's robots are ready, who will notice when Uber simply waves goodbye to the human drivers behind its 18-wheelers? Apart from the estimated 1.7 million truckers working U.S. roads, that is.

(Read more: Uber Freight, “10 Breakthrough Technologies: Self-Driving Trucks,” “Otto’s Self-Driving 18-Wheeler Has Made Its First Delivery,” “Uber Freight Will Bring Surge Pricing to the Trucking Business”)

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration 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.