Excerpt from a Sept 2016 NY Times article…
“The self-driving truck is real, and it’s spectacular. Two months ago, I rode in a prototype autonomous big-rig developed by Otto, a trucking company” from the NYTimes. After self-driving was flipped on, the rig handled most conditions fairly well — it steered itself around bends and maintained a consistent distance from other vehicles.
Though less than a year old, Otto has a fleet of six trucks now constantly driving across California to test its technology, which the company aims to sell as an aftermarket add-on to trucking companies sometime in the next few years. When it’s for sale, Otto’s system will drive the truck fully on freeways; the driver will take over on all other roads, as well as assist in other functions (refueling, filling out paperwork).
Last month, the ride-hailing giant Uber spent close to $700 million to acquire Otto, a move that will most likely accelerate the technology’s progress to market. And Otto is just one of several manufacturers working to automate trucking. According to Matthias Kässer, an analyst at the consulting firm McKinsey, a third of trucks on the road will be able to drive themselves in most circumstances by 2025.
Lior Ron, one of the co-founders of Otto, argues the technology will be a boon to just about everyone in today’s trucking business, especially the hundreds of thousands of owner-operator truckers who make about $60,000 a year on the road. That’s slightly above the median American income, but is unpredictable and comes with a lot of backbreaking work. “A new truck costs $160,000 to $200,000, and they can basically only drive it nine hours a day,” Mr. Ron said. With Otto’s technology, the driver would be able to double his output — he could drive all day, then take a nap while the rig barrels along the road, then come back to driving.
“The truck is always productive,” Mr. Ron said. “They’re making more money, because they can use it more. They’re seeing their families more often, because they can finish their long-haul routes faster. And most importantly, they’re safer.”