Self-Driving Trucks 5-10 Years Away: Colorado Transportation Chief

Shailen Bhatt, executive director of Colorado’s Department of Transportation, says it'll be a few years before self-driving trucks are transporting goods on a regular basis.

Otto recently completed the first-ever self-driving truck delivery. Using a modified 18-wheeler that’s outfitted with dozens of cameras and sensors, the Otto self-driving truck drove 120 miles from Fort Collins, Colo. to Colorado Springs delivering 51,744 cans of Budweiser.

Now, yes, the drive was carefully planned with a police detail trailing behind the self-driving truck at a time (1 am) when traffic was light. But this was still an historic event and a sign of things to come. The question now: when will will self-driving trucks become the norm?

Shailen Bhatt, the executive director of Colorado’s Department of Transportation, says it’ll be a few years before self-driving trucks are transporting goods on a regular basis. Here’s what Bhatt said in an interview with

“It’s hard to make predictions about the future, but I think we are going to have autonomous trucks here in the short-to-medium term. I think in five to 10 years, there will be a lot more trucks driving autonomously, but I don’t think this will take drivers out of the truck.”

Bhatt said the self-driving truck test “isn’t something we anticipate regularly running up and down I-25,” but he was impressed with how well the truck drove itself:

“It drove right down the center of the lane, it adjusted its speed to other trucks and cars around it. There was one instance where a car slowed down to about 35 mph for some reason and the truck slowed down to the appropriate distance, so to me that was striking how well the truck performed.”

Colorado has a program called RoadX that is using “21st century technology and ingenuity to solve our current infrastructure challenges,” which includes some of the most congested metro roadways in the country, and thus constant road maintenance, due to the state’s 50 percent population growth in the last 20 years. So Bhatt has reason to be optimistic about the arrival of self-driving vehicles. But he also has a warning for companies working on self-driving trucks:

“I would tell any truck driver now that I don’t think the public is going to accept driverless trucks driving down the roadway without a driver in the cab. I think it provides the public some assurance that a driver is still in the truck because the technology is still brand new.

“The way I see this working in the future is that when truckers get tired, as all humans do, the self-driving technology would take over and allow the driver to rest in the sleeper berth. Then when the driver is rested, they would get back behind the wheel and drop off their load. I see a hybrid of this in the medium-term of where truck drivers will still be in the trucks.”

When do you think self-driving trucks will be delivering goods on a regular basis? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
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