Uber’s autonomous trucks have been successful in their test runs. Source: Wired

Uber’s new autonomous trucks have officially started doing actual work. The trucks are now delivering cargo for Uber Freight customers. Uber Freight is a commercial cargo shipping service from the ride-hailing company. The first cargo delivery test runs have started in Arizona.

However, Uber has still not yet hauled cargo on 100% self-driving trucks. The test runs in Arizona still have a human element as truck drivers are working in tandem with the self-driving trucks.

Uber explains that the freight service works in a very simple manner. First, Uber loads the cargo on a normal human-driven truck. The driver collects the cargo from the shipper and drives it to a transfer hub. Once the cargo is on the transfer hub, it’s loaded into a freight transport. The long-haul trucks are autonomous, and have done very well in initial tests. They have been able to endure long highway hours without any incident. As soon as the long-haul is done, the cargo is handed over to human truck drivers who do short runs from the transfer hubs to the shipment destination.

There’s still a human element with truck drivers working alongside the self-driving trucks. Source: ReadWrite 

However, the most important thing to note in all this is that the long-haul trucks are all autonomous. This could be a huge game changer for Uber in its efforts to make a mark in the freight business. Although the Uber Freight app was initially designed to connect Uber customers with freight truck drivers, it seems that the company now wants to develop its own transport capabilities using the autonomous trucks.

Also, Uber wants to use self-driving ride share cars even for its very popular ride-hailing service. The challenge however with these new technologies has been deployment. Although it’s clear that the self-driving freight trucks have the capability to do long freight hauls, the biggest challenge for the ride-hailing company would be to find a unique deployment strategy. Targeted customers must see the value of autonomous freight delivery and the technology has to be perfect to avoid any potential issues.

The test runs in Arizona are a big step for Uber. Source: Innovation Village

This is perhaps the main reason why Uber is taking its time. But the test runs in Arizona are a big step for the company. Uber has also released a video which shows the autonomous truck’s journey. However, the application of this technology in a city environment or on busy US highways is yet to be seen.

In addition to this, Uber is working on finding a way to remove the human cargo driver from the trucks. After all, if the company is going to use its advanced autonomous self-driving technology to gain market share in the freight business, there’s a need to convince potential customers that Uber Freight is 100% autonomous.

The timeline for the full commercialization of this technology is not yet known. But from what we have seen in the Arizona freight tests, it’s safe to assume that Uber is getting closer to its goal. You can find the Uber video online to see the autonomous trucks in action.