Self-Driving Truck Goes 2,800 Miles to Deliver Butter

Mish

A self- driving truck drove 2,800 miles cross country, during Thanksgiving week, to deliver 40,000 pounds of butter.

Popular Mechanics reports Self-Driving Freight Truck Just Drove Across the Country to Deliver Butter.

Plus.ai, an artificial intelligence startup in Cupertino, California, has engineered an autonomous driving system for commercial freight trucks. This week, it made the world's first cross-country trip of its kind to deliver butter to a small town in Pennsylvania.

Key Details

  1. The Plus Ai truck drove from 2,800 miles from Tulare, California to Quakertown, Pennsylvania, through tunnels, snow, toll booths, and mountains, without a backup safety driver ever taking control.
  2. The truck relied on Plus.ai's SLAM technology, which is an acronym for its instant positioning and map building solution. SLAM includes a suite of sensors like cameras, lidar and radar. What stands out is the company's data fusion system which combines this information to create a field of front detection that's over 1,600 meters deep, allowing the truck to see far ahead. Plus.ai also achieves a wide field of view to help the truck adapt to new road shapes and slopes.
  3. The truck was hauling a refrigerated cooler with 40,000 pounds of Land-O-Lakes butter onboard. This was a real delivery.
  4. This trip took place during the heavy traffic week of Thanksgiving, encompassed 12 states and some inclement conditions, including snow.

Adoption Timeframe

Despite this being 2019, I will still have readers telling me commercial operations won't be in place for a decade, that drivers are better, and for numerous reasons these deliveries can never work.

Once again, I expect to hear the same tired arguments about truck hijackings, mountains, balloons, weather, cities, etc.

My position is that within a couple years of Federal approval, mass adoption of autonomous will ramp up quickly, for point-to-point interstate driving.

Note that this delivery went to an actual final destination. But a driver will take over to make an inner-city delivery, if necessary.

Cost and Time

Haulers with drivers will not be able to compete on costs or time.

Read that line over and over until the message sinks in. Competition ensures mass adoption on an accelerated timeframe.

All we are waiting for is federal regulation.

Early adopters will come on within a year, then the rest of the industry will have to adopt or they will be soon be priced out by market forces.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (51)
Freebees2me
Freebees2me

And yet another sector of 'higher middle-class' jobs is about to go bye-bye...

Disruption Tax

There needs to be some kind of disruption tax so that the profits are not accumulated by the few, while the social costs are paid by the many....

I get shipping costs will drop, but the social costs (emotional as well as financial) will be significant. Truck drivers work hard and can make $100K/year. Now what?

Somehow we're going to retrain them for another job? We've not shown any ability to do that so far....

No. 1-17
Anda
Anda

So what is a population of 8000 going to do with 40,000 lbs of butter ?

If they had any sense they would just buy a few cows.

Herkie
Herkie

Driving butter 2,800 miles from the Central Valley to Pennsylvania? I do not want to hear one single word about man made global warming when there are THOUSANDS of dairy farms within about 1,000 miles of that destination.

As to COMPUTER driven vehicles, they are monstrosities and you are going to regret the day you ever heard of them. They are going to be the single greatest tool of your surveillance the government has in about 12 or 15 years. And please stop calling them "self driving," they are not, they are computer driven and cannot function without the cloud, that is why you are about to be taxed between 4 and 5 TRILLION with a "T" to pay for 5G because without 5G there simply is not the scale of bandwidth to have widespread computer driven cars.

Bam_Man
Bam_Man

A crash would have been very messy.

TimeToTest
TimeToTest

Mish, I am completely with you on the interstate movement of goods with self driving vehicles. Computers are very good at repetitive task with little change in the bounties. Interstate fall into this category. They change very little from day to day and a route can be mapped out from one point to the next before the truck ever leaves. Lane changes road closures and even traffic and accidents would be factored in using google or another map service.

I would expect for this to be economic but a build out of transfer stations would be necessary. 30-40 of these across the nation around major areas would make transferring to human drivers the last mile very easy.

95% long haul is interstate so at least 75% of long haul trucking jobs would be lost. The rest would be last mile service to distribution center.

Once this technology gets cheaper than drivers the adoption rate will be breakneck.

ReadyKilowatt
ReadyKilowatt

SLAM? Someone made a funny.

The hot new consumer drone is the Skydio 2. It will follow subjects while avoiding objects with minimal intervention. And it does a pretty good job of making interesting pictures too:

Felix_Mish
Felix_Mish

Whoa! 4 hours and the comments are sparse and trend to humor. And the "con" side is half-heartedly tossing in, "Gosh, that's a lot of change - we can't have that." And "By golly, it'll be expensive."

Mish, Mish, my friend, don't be so discouraging. We come here to learn how bags blowing across the Interstate are an insurmountable problem.

killben
killben

Out of curiosity what was the backup in case the truck met with an accident?

ZZR600
ZZR600

Surely a railway line for long distance haulage is much cheaper than even autonomous trucks?

lamlawindy
lamlawindy

Mish, I must admit that -- while I've read your previous posts about this issue -- I'm a skeptic. However, I do have an open mind about the possibility of the wide adoption of self-driving vehicles.

IMHO, tort liability will have a big role to play in this field. If a self-driving truck slams into a minivan -- killing or maiming a family -- and a jury awards YUGE damages against the manufacturer & software firms -- then the adoption will take decades. If the benefits of self-driving trucks become readily apparent & publicized, the adoption will happen mich more swiftly.

shamrock
shamrock

For those who think 1 self driving truck will lead to 1 million self driving trucks over the next couple of years, here is what the founder of the self driving truck company says:

"The transition is actually slower than you thought," he explained. "The transition is not like, 'tomorrow, all of sudden, trucks will be autonomously driven.'

baconbacon
baconbacon

large numbers of self driving trucks are still 5-10 years out: The basic problems haven't changed.

Large chunks of the savings are illusory if the trucks end up legally required to have a backup driver on board. That driver will end up subject to labor laws and safety regulations restricting the time that the trucks can run continuously and will be paid reducing the savings dramatically. Given the extra costs up front costs of a dual system a single poorly (or intentionally) written federal law could completely negate the advantages of self driving systems.

Software is great for scaling, but also terrible for scaling when issues are discovered. A single problem in a single aircraft can threaten to ground every aircraft of that type, and the solution is in part a slower, steady approach to replacing aircraft, not wholesale changes across the entire industry. Again adoption will be slower because issues are magnified by volume here, and slow and steady will likely lead to the dominant players controlling the industry with fast changes being far more likely to collapse companies.

However Tort issues are basically non existent if self driving trucks are significantly safer than human drivers. A single huge settlement won't matter because that is exactly the case that insurance is set up to handle, thousands of people are killed annually, and tens of thousands of people more are injured, in accidents involving trucks, you can easily handle a 10x payment per death/injury increase if you get a similar collapse in actual incidents.

Finally if you think that all we get out of self driving trucks is sightly lower shipping costs you don't know the extent and costs of the trucking industry. Potentially 5,000+ lives saved a year and tens of thousands of fewer injuries from safer trucks, much less road congestion and less pollution with a less impact from what pollution there is. Perhaps we should have shirts saying 'Self driving trucks stole our jobs and all I got was an extra decade with my granddad and this lousy T-shirt' printed up.

abend237-04
abend237-04

The next time an 18 wheeler is tailgating you at 75, using the rumble strips to nudge himself back in the lane, reflect on whether you'd prefer this AI system to the human behind you casually taking your life in his hands.

Insurance companies will take the drivers out as soon as the data show 95% reduction in preventable deaths and carnage.

I'd remind everyone that Henry Ford's initial approach to using his little gasoline engine for transportation was a bust. He tried to sell it as a power booster kit on carriages in San Francisco. Ridiculous! Too noisy, scared hell out of some horses, and even if it worked, it would devastate the horse and mule business so important to the economy... He accepted defeat, went back to Detroit and decided to try it with his own little carriage. It indeed devastated every mule barn and buggy whip firm in the country. It's coming.

KidHorn
KidHorn

I hope this succeeds and this is a step forward, but Mish is a long way off from claiming victory. For all we know, the software may have been written specifically for this one route. They had a good demo. But sometimes going from demo to actual product takes years.

Maximus_Minimus
Maximus_Minimus

You can self-drive a truck thousands of miles across the country, but delivery to your door will be done by your friendly Indian delivery guy.

AussiePete
AussiePete

George Gilder, who wrote, "Life After Television" in 1990 which Steve Jobs credited with inspiring his invention of the iPhone, has now written a book called, "Life After Google". On page 113 he quotes self-driving stats from 2017 - "The best record by far is Google's Waymo, but it has to disengaged every 5,500 miles or so, compared with nearly 500,000 miles for human drivers between accidents and 84.6 million miles between fatalities. Tesla has to be turned off every three miles. Sure, these systems will get better with time, but they're nowhere close to where they need to be."

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