You might recall the (in)famous war between Uber and the State of California’s DMV in late 2016, when the former rolled out its fleet of autonomous Volvo XC90s on the roads of San Fransisco. It ended with the hail-riding company stepping down and taking its cars to Arizona instead, where it was welcomed by local Governor Doug Ducey.
California’s DMV managed to win the feud on a technicality, and more specifically the fact that Uber hadn’t applied for a testing license. Arizona authorities had no such issues, though, and CNet reports that the company has begun operating its autonomous vehicles. Only it’s not Volvo’s SUVs, as one might have expected, but cargo-hauling trucks!
Last Tuesday, Uber announced that its testing phase in Arizona was over and that it’s starting to move freight for various customers across the State.
“We’ve been really hard at work the past several months improving the technology,” Alden Woodrow, Uber’s self-driving truck product lead said. “We’re building something that solves problems in the industry and also makes truck drivers’ lives easier and better.”
The way this whole thing will operate is the following: Uber will establish transfer stations at certain locations, where a regular, non-autonomous semi with a human driver will take his cargo from the port. There, the freight will be transferred to a self-driving truck, which will drive itself to another transfer station, where a regular truck will complete the last part of hauling the cargo into a rural area.
That, the company admits, is due to the fact that city streets might confuse a fully autonomous vehicle at this point. “Because we are still in research and development mode, the capabilities are changing all the time,” Woodrow said. “In general, the trucks are pretty capable of driving on the highway, and that’s what we’re designing them for.”
To avoid a repeat of the California incident, Woodrow commented that they are working closely with regulators and do everything by the book. Even though at first they will operate solely in Arizona, Uber hopes to expand to other States in the future.
Despite their self-driving ability, a human driver will always be behind the wheel to take over when necessary, like if they encounter an accident or a construction zone ahead, where the autonomous systems might find hard to negotiate.
To find out more about the self-driving trucks and the way they operate, you can check out the two videos right below.