Uber Self-Driving Trucks Delivering Goods in Arizona

The hub-to-hub self-driving truck model is no longer a theory. For now, there's a backup driver. Two years from now?

The future of long-haul autonomous trucking has arrived: Uber’s self-driving trucks are now delivering freight in Arizona.

Uber’s big push to dominate the trucking industry took a leap forward today with the announcement that the ride-hailing giant is now operating its fleet of self-driving trucks on its freight-hauling app. The shipments are taking place in Arizona, where the ride-hailing giant is also testing out its robot taxis. Uber said it is using a transfer hub model, in which the trucks drive autonomously on the highway and human drivers take over for the last miles.

Uber isn’t the only company using self-driving trucks to haul cargo. Embark has been shipping refrigerators between Southern California and Texas since late 2017. The startup just completed a coast-to-coast trip from LA to Jacksonville, Florida, driving 2,400 miles autonomously. Nor is Uber the only Silicon Valley company looking to grab a piece of the brokerage market. Seattle-based truck technology company Convoy has raised $62 million for its app that matches trucking companies with shippers that need to move freight.

As a standalone business, Uber’s trucking venture still faces significant headwinds. There are significant costs associated with owning and managing a fleet of trucks, not to mention outfitting each with an expensive array of off-the-shelf cameras and sensors. If it decides it would rather be a supplier, though, Uber will have to forge relationships with fleet operators who will be looking for significant savings before committing to any deal with a novice in the trucking world like Uber.

Uber Freight

Reader Comment

The link to the article came from reader David who mocked predictions made in comments to my self-driving articles.

"NOT FOR ANOTHER 20 years at the EARLIEST"

"Or, Right now," said David.

No Cost Savings, Yet

For now, no human hours are saved. In fact, it requires extra time for workers to unhook and rehook cargo. But that will quickly change.

Within two years I estimate there will be no backup drivers.

If so, my model for mass-elimination of long-haul drivers in a 2022-2024 timeframe is way out of date.

Deflationary Trends

By the way, this is extremely deflationary. In general, technology is. And it is well beyond foolish for central banks to be fighting it.

BIS Deflation Study

The BIS did a historical study and found routine price deflation was not any problem at all.

Deflation may actually boost output. Lower prices increase real incomes and wealth. And they may also make export goods more competitive,” stated the study.

For a discussion of the BIS study, please see Historical Perspective on CPI Deflations: How Damaging are They?

​Central banks’ seriously misguided attempts to defeat routine consumer price deflation is what fuels the destructive asset bubbles that eventually collapse.

Debt Deflation Coming Up

Another debt-deflation bubble bursting episode is coming up.

All it takes is an economic slowdown or a change in attitudes of greater fools willing to chase the market higher and higher.

MIke "Mish" Shedlock

Electricity is much cheaper than diesel. And electric motors are much cheaper to maintain. The problem with electric trucks is the expensive battery and expensive fast charger. An autonomous truck can spend 1/3 of its time charging and still be faster than a human driver with sleep regulations. Autonomy enables electrification. Autonomous electric trucks will cost about half what manual diesel trucks do per mile. To be clear, I'm only talking highway autonomous. They'll need drivers to navigate cities streets.

Good thing autonomous driving vehicles will be unhackable. Can you imagine the potential of bad things happening if they were? I am totally not excited about any of this.

I find it amusing that today autonomous electric cars are thought the future and “diesel is dead.” It was less than 10 years ago that “clean diesel” was the future and various European governments provided tax incentives for those willing to switch:

For my part, I wish policy makers would stop being so eager to mandate environmentalism when history has shown they are prone to making serious errors. Some major battery limitations will need to be overcome before it will be practical to make heavy trucks electric.

Mish, I don't know what specific timeframes were put on specific goals, but I don't think the naysayers are obviously wrong. I think most of them agree that self driving will be inevitable, just not as soon as you predict. This is a step in the right direction, but, it's nothing new. There have been self driving long haul trucks with human drivers for a while now. In engineering there's a saying, the first 90% takes 10% of the time. The last 10% takes 90% of the time. Will we get there? absolutely. Will 95%+ of long haul truckers be replaced within 5 years? Possibly, but I'm skeptical.

"Within two years I estimate there will be no backup drivers." Didn't Mish say that 2 years ago?

No - I didn't My timeframe stated many times was 2022-2024 I may have moved it up a year at one point. But two years ago I certainly never predicted by today there would be no backup drivers. In this case, I am talking about interstate long haul. My hub vision has been extremely accurate.