Starsky expects to start making completely driverless deliveries in Florida by the end of 2018, with at least one truck.
On Tuesday, ride-hailing giant Uber announced it was doing a very cool, techno-futuristic thing: starting a commercial delivery service that included letting a truck drive itself 344 miles across Arizona. Of course, a trained safety operator sat behind the wheel the whole time, ready to take over if anything went awry.
Pshaw, says a small startup called Starsky Robotics. In true Florida Man fashion, founder and CEO Stefan Seltz-Axmacher decided to do something much bolder and a bit scarier: In mid-February, in the Sunshine State (where regulations are as lax as those in Arizona), he sent his truck down the road for a 7-mile journey—with nobody inside. Now Starsky expects to start making completely driverless deliveries in Florida by the end of 2018, with at least one truck.
Taken together, these two demos offer diverging futures of freight, in which humans play different roles. Uber envisions drivers as bar pilots: They handle the trucks on tricky surface streets from their starting point to the highway, then hop out of the cab and let the machine do the simple long distance hauling on its own. At the end of its journey, the truck exits and meets up with another human, who handles the last few miles to its destination—the way bar pilots guide huge container ships into and out of ports. Trucking becomes a purely local affair, but otherwise looks much like it does today. Silicon Valley startup Embark is going for the same idea, and started shipping refrigerators from Texas to California last fall.
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