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Uber plans self-driving, long-haul trucks 'in the near future'

Aaron Aupperlee
| Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 11:39 a.m.
Uber is testing self-driving semi trucks in California. (Photo from Uber)
Uber is testing self-driving semi trucks in California. (Photo from Uber)
Uber is testing self-driving semi trucks in California. (Photo from Uber)
Uber is testing self-driving semi trucks in California. (Photo from Uber)
Uber is testing self-driving semi trucks in California. (Photo from Uber)
Uber is testing self-driving semi trucks in California. (Photo from Uber)

Uber is working on a fleet of self-driving semi trucks, but it won't completely replace traditional drivers, the company said.

Uber's Advanced Technologies Group, the company's self-driving car wing based in Pittsburgh, laid out its vision for the future of long-haul trucking in a post Tuesday on the website Medium.

"Self-driving trucks will manage long-haul driving on some interstate highways, but having two hands on the wheel will still be the best way to get a load to its final destination," the post read. "Truck drivers possess the critical skills that self-driving trucks may never match — like backing into a tight dock, navigating a busy industrial yard or moving axles on a trailer."

Uber's post on Medium came just days before Tesla is expected to unveil its semi truck, according to a tweet from Elon Musk.

Uber last month confirmed to the Tribune-Review that it was testing a self-driving semi truck at its autonomous vehicle test track in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Hazelwood. The truck was not being tested on public roads in Pittsburgh, but the company tweeted in June that it was testing trucks on the roads in San Francisco.

A year ago, Uber made news when one of its trucks hauled 50,000 cans of Budweiser from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs in Colorado. The truck had a driver in the cab to monitor the trip.

The post on Medium stated that in the near future, a fleet of Uber semi trucks will drive on select highways without anyone inside the cab. The post did not say how soon that could happen.

Self-driving long-haul trucks will make deliveries to transfer hubs near cities and towns where drivers will take over and complete the journey, the post stated. The company hoped its Uber Freight app, which matches drivers with loads, will facilitate the transfers quickly.

The head of the 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters told Congress in September that he felt self-driving trucking technology was not safe and would put hundreds of thousands of people out of work.

"I'm concerned about highway safety. I am concerned about jobs," long-time Teamsters President James P. Hoffa told Reuters . "I am concerned we are moving too fast in a very, very strategic area that we have to make sure we are doing it right because lives are involved."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also expressed concern about the effect self-driving cars would have on jobs.

Uber's post stated that self-driving trucks will improve working conditions for drivers.

"This kind of efficiency will allow carriers and drivers to keep moving, continue earning and stay close to home. And for drivers who prefer the open road, long-haul opportunities will still exist on routes across the country for many years to come," the post stated.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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