Uber is now loading up a small fleet of self-driving trucks with freight and making regular hauls across Arizona. The company has been conducting trips for commercial customers since November, but this is the first time Uber has discussed the project.
The Arizona tests represent the first partnership between Uber Freight and Uber’s self-driving unit. Uber has incorporated its self-driving trucks onto its Uber Freight platform, which matches drivers with companies that need cargo moved. The trucks are only operating on highways at the moment, and aren’t yet capable of navigating city streets, Uber’s self-driving truck product lead, Alden Woodrow, said on a press call yesterday.
So Uber Freight will use drivers from its platform to make the trip from a shipper and deliver it to what Uber calls a “transfer hub,” which is really just a weigh station. The Uber Freight driver will then hand off the load to one of Uber’s self-driving trucks, which will take the cargo down the highway portion of the trip. The self-driving truck will then hand off its haul at another transfer point, so that another Freight driver can take the load the remaining few miles to its destination.
Every self-driving truck will have a safety driver and a member of Uber’s ATG team sitting in the cab during these hauls. UberFreight says it is also working to make sure that truckers who agree to do these short hauls are being matched with cargo whether they’re coming or going from a transfer hub. Part of this is to ensure that drivers aren’t wasting time driving around empty. But it’s also to create an industry around short-haul trips.
Woodrow says trucking—with its long hours and time away from home—isn’t an especially popular job, but he thinks short-haul trips is one way to provide reprieve. “The bigger question for us is how do we make sure we get a younger generation interested in this?” he says.
The tests will help Uber improve its self-driving technology and teach its trucks how to obey traffic laws. Perhaps more importantly, it will also help them interact with human drivers. “Most drivers don’t know how to drive safely around trucks,” Woodrow says.