An unused port of entry facility in Topock, Arizona is now at the heart of Uber’s self-driving truck program.
The company says its self-driving trucks are regularly moving consumer goods along Interstate 40 to the tiny town on the banks of the Colorado River, where it meets human-driven trucks from Southern California. At this meeting spot, or transfer hub, the two trucks swap trailers packed with freight, each one returning to its respective destinations. The self-driving trucks have safety drivers inside the cab to take over if needed.
This milestone marks progress on two fronts: the technical workings of Uber’s self-driving trucks and the ramp up of Uber Freight, a tool developed by the company to connect trucking companies and their drivers directly with shippers.
The Uber Freight platform might not be as exciting as autonomous trucks rolling down the highway, but it’s a critical logistical piece that will help the company build out a network of human drivers and carriers. Uber Freight lets carriers (or the drivers who book the loads on the carrier’s behalf) choose the freight they book and see pricing upfront. The platform also handles the payment component, ensuring carriers receive full payment within a few days. Uber Freight is now being used by conventional trucks (not autonomous ones) in Texas, Southern California, corridors in the Southeast, and to deliver goods to and from cities near from the Chicago area.
Uber produced a short animation, shown below, that explains how it all works.
The goal, and what the company is testing in Arizona, is for Uber Freight and Uber Advanced Technology Group self-driving trucks to work together.
Uber envisions shifting the work of driving a truck from long stints shuttling freight across the country to a short-haul model. Drivers would focus on moving commercial loads back and forth near and around cities to transfer hubs. It’s here where autonomous trucks would pick up freight for the long haul portions on the highway.
“That’s the end goal for us, to have self-driving trucks out on the highway driving safely and reliably on highways and handing off, and being complementary to truck drivers who can then move loads in the first and last mile,” said Alden Woodrow, who is product lead of self-driving trucks at Uber ATG.