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Uber driverless trucks are delivering stuff in Arizona

Uber’s self-driving trucks have started operating,  as the ride-hailing company launches its new freight-delivery app.

The trucks have been deployed in Arizona, one of America’s most driverless vehicle-friendly states, where several companies—including Uber itself— have been testing their self-driving cars for months. Uber’s trucks are working on a “transfer hub” model: human drivers are actually steering the wheel during each journey’s  initial and final miles, whereas the machine drives autonomously while on the highway.

This model, according to the tech giant, will end up creating more trucking jobs than it obliterates: as Uber’s lorries cannot self-drive for a whole journey, the Uber Freight app will allow shippers to hire professional lorry-drivers taking care of the most complex segments of a long-haul trip.

Truckers will initially transport the freight —in conventional, non-autonomous trucks—from a loading point to an out-of-town hub, where the trailer is transferred to an Uber truck.  The vehicle— with a safety driver onboard— will then drive itself for the longest segment of the journey; near the end, it will enter another transfer hub, where the load is again hitched to a conventional truck, and taken to destination by another human driver (who dropped off another load when he arrived at the hub) .

Uber has not disclosed how many self-driving trucks are on the road right now, or how many deliveries have been completed so far— but according to TechCrunch the project is still in its early phases.

“We’re not at the point where that system is running 24-7 at all times,” Ubers’ product lead for self-driving trucks Alden Woodrow said. “But that’s the direction that we’d like to get to.”

The trucks are just the latest addition to Uber’s Uber Freight, the company’s app designed to connect shippers and truckers— which was launched in May 2017. Still, Uber’s plans for trucking have been clear since the company purchased Otto— a startup working on driverless heavy vehicle technology— in a £470 million ($650 million) deal in mid-2016.

Otto, the brainchild of former Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski, wound up landing Uber in hot water, as Alphabet-owned Waymo accused Lewandoski of stealing trade secrets. A long-awaited legal battle over the allegedly stolen technology arrived to a sudden denouement last month, when Uber and Waymo reached an out-of-court settlement.



Image via Uber


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