PHOENIX, Ariz. – Since November, motorists in Arizona have been sharing the highways with trucks driven by robots, the Washington Post reports. Uber has been quietly testing its self-driving Volvo trucks—each with a human backup driver—on the state’s major roads. The ride-hailing company isn’t partnering with Volvo on the trucks, but merely retrofitted the vehicles for automated driving.
“This a big step forward in self-driving truck technology, and the future of the freight industry at large,” Uber said in a statement. The company’s Uber Freight uses human drivers to accompany self-driving trucks to the Arizona border, then ride in the driver’s seat during the highway portion of the trip. The human driver takes over when the destination is close at hand to finish the delivery.
“We envision a future where truck drivers and self-driving trucks work together to move freight around the country,” Uber wrote in a November blog post about the test. “Self-driving trucks will manage long haul driving on some interstate highways, but having two hands on the wheel will still be the best way to get a load to its final destination. … [However,] truck drivers possess the critical skills that self-driving trucks may never match — like backing into a tight dock, navigating a busy industrial yard, or moving axles on a trailer.”
The United States is currently experiencing a shortage of truck drivers, making interest in automated trucks higher than ever. For example, Tesla and Waymo are working on electric, self-driving trucks, while startup Embark’s automated truck recently completed a cross-country trip from California to Florida without a human driver.