The Bandit and Snowman would be jealous

Surely you’ve seen the iconic 1977 film, Smokey and the Bandit wherein The Bandit (Burt Reynolds) and The Snow Man (Jerry Reed) dodge the hard-nosed Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) over hundreds of miles as the boys drive to Texarkana from Atlanta to bring back a load of beer in Snow Man’s 18-wheeler. If not, stop what you’re doing and watch it.

Anyway, the boys would be jealous if they saw this self-driving semi take a load of Budweiser beer from Fort Collins, Colorado to Colorado Springs – all without someone behind the wheel.

The 120-mile journey took place this week thanks to the partnership between Otto and Anheuser-Busch. Otto is a self-driving truck startup founded by ex Google employees and now owned by Uber. Anheuser-Busch, of course, is the long-established brewer of Budweiser beer.

"The initial appeal for us was to see how we could meet the needs of a company like Anheuser-Busch," Otto co-founder Lior Ron told USA Today. "But now after this successful test, we’re eager to see how it will handle other roads and other weather."

James Sembrot, senior director of logistics and safety for Anheuser-Busch, says the company wanted to "see if we could help pioneer technology that will make the jobs of those shipping product easier and safer." Sembrot continued, saying, "We liked the prospect of those folks traveling safer in trucks that help improve environmental impact. There’s no question in our mind that transportation companies will want to make these improvements."

Safety is always a priority and rested drivers are generally better, safer drivers. Secondly, the environmental impact would be the decrease in fuel consumption thanks to the self-driving truck’s smooth operation.

The Otto system isn’t fully autonomous. It does require a driver for city streets and urban areas. On the highway, however, the system can be activated, allowing the truck to pilot itself while the driver can relax or sleep.

Continue reading for the full story.

Why It Matters

The world of autonomous driving vehicles is becoming more of a reality as technology rapidly advances and state and local laws allow for continued testing. Colorado, along with California and Arizona, is among several states allowing automakers and tech companies to test driver-less systems on public streets.

Otto is only one company out of many, but has seemingly pushed the envelope the farthest thanks to its actual delivery of product. It will be interesting to see how Otto continues to develop its system and producers like Anheuser-Busch adopt such technologies for delivery. Interestingly enough, Anheuser-Busch doesn’t own any trucks, but rather contracts with roughly 300 trucking companies across America to deliver its beer. Despite it not owning vehicles, Anheuser-Busch says it’s committed to making truck driving a safer, more marketable job. This will ultimately help trucking companies hire and retain drivers.

And perhaps if the Snow Man had a self-driving rig back in 1977, he and The Bandit would have been able to avoid getting in trouble with Sheriff Justice in the first place. Autonomous driving trucks are programmed to follow traffic laws, after all.

Source: USA Today

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