Uber’s self-driving trucks have been hired to deliver freight in Arizona

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The company provided little detail on the scale of the operation.

Uber’s self-driving trucks are now delivering commercial freight in Arizona, the company announced on Tuesday. This marks the beginning of the company realizing the ambitions it laid out when acquiring self-driving trucking startup, Otto, in August 2016.

Uber’s acquisition of Otto has not been without its roadblocks, however. Most notably, there was Alphabet’s lawsuit against the company over the acquisition, something Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said, when he agreed to settle the suit, could have been handled better.

But, as Recode first reported, there was also tension within the self-driving department over which of Uber’s two autonomous efforts took priority — was it the cars or trucks? Staffers who joined Uber as part of the Otto acquisition worried trucks would take a back seat to Uber’s original driverless ambitions of building cars to be used in its ride-hail network.

While former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said he wanted to acquire Otto as a means to hire one of its co-founders, Anthony Levandowski, Levandowski’s partner Lior Ron testified during the Alphabet lawsuit that being able to develop driverless trucks was non-negotiable. In fact, he decided to sell the company to Uber, instead of staying at Alphabet or selling to Lyft, because it was one of the few places that was open to creating a driverless trucking service.

Though Uber has spent the better part of its driverless PR efforts on promoting its semi-autonomous Volvos, it appears its driverless trucking efforts are a bit further along. It’s not because the trucks are more technically capable of driving autonomously than the cars — in fact, driving autonomously on the highway as these trucks are doing is much easier than driving on city streets — it’s because Uber has actually managed to commercialize the trucks.

The company wouldn’t specify how many self-driving trucks were operating in Arizona nor how many companies it was working with or the number of shipments that have been delivered. Uber simply said its self-driving trucks had performed “thousands” of rides since the beginning of the year, a “significant portion” of which have been in autonomous mode.

So it’s impossible to tell how much money the company has made from the shipments they’ve delivered with these trucks, and it’s likely it’d be a drop in the bucket compared to how much Uber has spent and will continue to spend on developing, retrofitting and owning the trucks.

But, it is one of the first few examples of a company actually commercializing autonomous vehicles as a service. Uber isn’t alone in the space, however. In fact, trucking startup Embark beat the company to the punch and started shipping Frigidaire refrigerators between Texas and California late last year.

Uber is beginning to operate — in however small a scale — what could be an interesting new revenue stream for the company. Creating the foundation for that is not exactly an inexpensive endeavor, however.

Uber has been building out the logistics end of its trucking service, called Uber Freight, and officially launched the platform in May 2017. It essentially operates like an Uber for freight wherein the company matches commercial shippers with truck drivers looking for a job.

So, as there is for its autonomous cars with the existing ride-hail network, there is a built-in path to market for Uber’s autonomous trucks. As many industry experts have predicted, autonomous trucks may hit the road in a meaningful way much faster than passenger vehicles, largely because teaching software how to drive on the highway is much easier than teaching software how to drive on local streets where there are many more variables.

That’s why the trucks will hand control back to the driver when exiting the highway or freeway. In fact, the vehicle operator will have full discretion over when to engage and disengage the autonomous technology on the highways — just like in Teslas.

That means there’ll still be drivers in the mix.

“We are not even looking at what it would take to operate a self-driving truck on busier city streets,” Uber spokesperson Sarah Abboud told Recode. “The highly skilled truck drivers out there today are going to facilitate these short-haul routes now and in the future.”

Each of these drivers have commercial licenses but must receive extra training to be able to operate the autonomous truck. Today, the company needs three drivers for a single long haul.

The way it works is after a shipper posts a job on the Uber Freight marketplace, an assigned driver will pick up the freight from the shipper in a conventional truck. That driver then goes to a dedicated location, called a transfer hub, that Uber has set up where the shipment is transferred to a self-driving truck.

Then a trained autonomous vehicle operator drives the long haul portion of the trip to another transfer hub close to the destination. Here, a third driver picks up the trailer in a conventional truck and delivers the shipment to the final destination.

Uber currently owns the trucks but may partner with another company to bring the trucks to market in the future. While it’s a potentially significant move for Uber, the ride-hail company will have to compete with a number of major players operating in the space like Tesla and Alphabet’s self-driving arm Waymo, as well as newer players like Embark.

Recode – All

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Freight shipment tracking startup FourKites banks $35M Series B

Fourkites, a freight-shipment tracking startup that provides real-time visibility and predictive analytics to shippers and 3PLs (third-party logistics providers) raised a $ 35M Series B from August Capital. Existing investors Bain Capital Ventures and Hyde Park Venture Partners also participated in the round.

A driver-facing app to capture proof-of-delivery, e-signature and delivery site ratings

The latest round brings FourKites’ total funding to $ 51M. The company will use the funding proceeds for geographic and product-line expansion. Since its founding in 2014, FourKites has scored several high-profile customers including Unilever for supply chain tracking across Europe, AB InBev in South Africa, Best Buy, Kraft Heinz, Nestlé, and US Foods among others. The company’s fast growth is understandable given that manufacturers and other businesses are relying on ‘just-in-time’ shipments of components and raw materials. And, customers are able to see in advance if the shipment will be on time or late.

FourKites Insights & Benchmarking

FourKites’ key use cases include shipment location tracking, real-time trailer temperature, condition monitoring, and predictive analytics. It currently provides services to industry segments including truckload, less-than-truckload (LTL), rail, ocean, and parcel.

The solution works by tracking a load throughout its lifecycle. The load info and carrier name are pulled from shipper’s TMS/ERP. It then pulls truck, trailer, and GPS identifier from dispatch system. It then pulls data from a shipment’s GPS/ELD and Telematics system like TomTom Telematics, Zonar, or Vnomics. Typically, FourKites’s system pings the telematics device every 15 minutes. On the last leg of the solution, FourKites provides a driver-facing app to capture proof-of-delivery, e-signature and delivery site ratings.

FourKites’ key competitors include TransFix, Cargomatic, Cargo Chief, and Trucker Path, though, these companies have a different operating model.

Postscapes: Tracking the Internet of Things

Uber Freight schedules loads for truck drivers in six more states

Uber's purchase of Otto provided the ride-sharing company with a beachhead to get into the trucking business, an entrée to the autonomous car industry and a bit of controversy. The resulting Uber Freight was announced last year, and the servic…
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Agtech IoT startup Freight Farms raises $7.3M Series B

Freight Farms, a Boston-based micro-farm startup that builds automated farm systems in shipping containers closed $ 7.3M in Series B funding. The latest round was led by Spark Capital.

The SEC documents for the funding round, filed on April 4, 2017, show that the startup’s total equity funding currently exceeds $ 12M.

Freight Farm Containers

Led by Jonathan Friedman and Brad McNamara as co-founders of the company, the connected micro-farm is used to grow a variety of lettuces, herbs, and other greens. The freight container uses an automated watering and fertilizing technology. The two integrated products of the startup are a leafy green machine and FarmHand, a mobile-app based personal farm assistant.

The leafy green machine is a micro-farm built entirely inside a 40’ x 8’ x 9.5’ shipping container outfitted with temperature, pH and EC sensors and controls, LED light strips, a closed loop hydroponic system, and a touchscreen dashboard.

The ‘things’ of this micro-farm are internet connected with remote access through the mobile app or a web browser. Farmers can control temperature, humidity, CO2, nutrients and pH levels inside their farm from their iOS device or web browser. Real-time data from sensors and in-farm cameras allows farmers to track a farm’s climate conditions and set parameters for ideal growing conditions.


View our smart agriculture resource page for more companies battling in this market.

Postscapes: Tracking the Internet of Things

Uber launches Freight app for trucking businesses

Uber today revealed its new app: Freight, a spin-off of the popular ride-sharing service aimed at long-haul truckers. If the promotional video is anything to go by, Uber Freight works similarly to Uber. Drivers pick an available load through the app, sorted by payment, destination, or deadline. Within seconds, the app confirms the booking. According to the company’s announcement: We take the guesswork out of finding and booking freight, which is often the most stressful part of a driver’s day. What used to take several hours and multiple phone calls can now be achieved with the touch of a button. Uber promises to…

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