Uber's self-driving trucks already delivering goods in Arizona

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Uber announced Tuesday that their self-driving trucks are already moving freight in Arizona. (Source: Uber) Uber announced Tuesday that their self-driving trucks are already moving freight in Arizona. (Source: Uber)
(3TV/CBS 5) -

At freeway speed, they look like normal semi-trucks. The only giveaway: the spinning laser sensor above the cab.

Uber announced Tuesday that its self-driving tractor-trailers are currently delivering loads on Arizona highways. The trucks, with a licensed driver behind the wheel to observe, have been traversing Arizona highways since November.

The company says the goal is to eliminate the driver in the cab – at least for certain kinds of routes. In a video released Tuesday, the company shows a truck driver making a short trip to a drop-yard in Topock, Arizona, attaching his load to a self-driving semi, and heading home.

The self-driving truck takes over for the long “middle distance.” Uber says it will still rely on human drivers on surface streets, to and from loading docks.

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The company touts the technology as a way for drivers to spend more time with their families, but critics worry it could kill jobs or slash paychecks for drivers. Long-haul truckers make money by the mile.

Tony Bradley, president of the Arizona Trucking Association, says it’s too soon to gauge the impact.

“Under this scenario, they make three [short] routes where they may make one before,” he said. “If they can continue to make their turns and get their miles in, they may make the same amount of money. They may make more money. They may make less money. We just don't know yet. It's so new.”

Bradley said the technology could have significant safety benefits, but he thinks Uber’s vision for a fully driverless cab isn’t realistic.

“As an industry, we always believe that there will be an operator behind the wheel or in the cab of the truck,” he said. He pointed to airplanes and trains as examples of vehicles that have autonomous technology but still rely on the human oversight of pilots or conductors.

Truckers like Manuel Gallegos see the benefits. He’s been driving for 20 years.

“More safety because nobody’s going to be tired,” he said. “That would save us a lot of stress, driving, hours. That way we could be with our family.”

To him, shorter trips and less time in traffic sounds attractive as long as one thing doesn’t change – the pay.

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