San Francisco, California - Uber says it is using self-driving semi trucks to augment human-driven rigs in its on-demand trucking service in Arizona.

Humans pick up cargo from Uber Freight customers and drive it in trailers to transfer hubs. There the trailers are hitched onto self-driving trucks for long highway hauls. The self-driving vehicles head to transfer hubs close to their destinations, where the trailers are hitched back onto human-steered rigs to complete their journeys.

"This a big step forward in self-driving truck technology, and the future of the freight industry at large," Uber said. "This paints a picture of the progress being made towards our vision for the future of trucking; now hauling real loads in Arizona."

Hauling Bud

Uber has been testing self-driving truck technology since 2016, and began using autonomous rigs for hauls late in 2017. It claims to have made the first commercial shipment by self-driving truck when it hauled a trailer full of Budweiser beer about 200 kilometres on a highway in Colorado.

Newcomer Embark also began using self-driving trucks in 2017 to haul fridges from a warehouse in Texas to a distribution centre in southern California.

Uber Freight is an app that enables shippers to book truckers similar to the way in which people summon Uber car rides.

"Much as we do with our self-driving Ubers in Pittsburgh and Phoenix," Uber said, "we're developing our self-driving truck system by using it in the Uber Freight network and hauling loads for real customers."

All-electric trucks

Package and shipping company UPS announced in December that it will buy 125 of Tesla's all-electric semi trucks, the largest such order since the vehicle was unveiled a month earlier.

The order by UPS, one of the biggest operators of commercial trucking fleets, came on the heels of a PepsiCo announcement two weeks ago to buy 100 of the Tesla trucks. 

Tesla, Google, and Uber are among technology and auto industry companies pursuing autonomous-vehicle technology, which has been touted as having potential to save fuel, ease congestion, and make transportation safer.

Agence France-Presse