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Posted on 10-30-2016

Meet Otto: The First Self Driving Truck

As many of my avid blog readers are already aware, I am a Baltimore chiropractor that spends the majority of my time treating patients in Baltimore with headaches, neck pain, and back pain. Sometimes these patients present following Baltimore auto accident injuries and Baltimore truck accident injuries, and sometimes they are "desk jockeys" or "weekend warriors." The thread that unites them is the presence of spinal pain and discomfort that prevents them from actively participating in their activities of daily living. They always want to get out of pain and back into their normal routines.

One of the things that I like to spend my time blogging about on this website is technology. Several posts ago I discussed that new autonomous Uber cabs were on the road in Pittsburgh. As we discussed in that blog post, only time will tell how able Uber will be to get these cars on the roads in all major cities.

Uber is not stopping its quest for global transportation domination only with passenger vehicles. Uber recently aquired a company called Otto for $680 million just a few months ago and it has already managed to make its first semi-autnomous delivery of cargo in Colorado just this past week. What was the precious cargo that traveled from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs? 50,000 beers!

Unlike traditional cross-state and cross-country trucking outfits that require a large labor force of drivers to operate these big rigs, Otto sets out to help the bottom line of big businesses by decreasing their dependence on human control (which is the number one cause of accidents, injuries, and deaths on highways) all while decreasing fuel costs.

I'll admit. As I was reading some articles about Otto on the web, I got nervous thinking about what it would feel like to see an 18 wheeler driving without a truck driver. But Otto doesn't like to think of itself that way. It likes to think of the human truck driver on board as a "co-pilot" that can engage control of the truck with the push of a button.

Highways seem like a natural fit for semi-autonomous trucking operations. The roads are generally straighter. There are few if no pedestrians. There are no stop signs. And the already stretched thin work force of drivers can focus on the "tricky" driving that still requires human interaction. The driving that takes the truck the first few miles to the highway and the last few miles to its delivery zone. That is, it does not appear to be looking to eliminate human employees as drivers.

The first autonomous co-pilot on Otto was Walt Martin. He joked that he would be busy taking naps and practicing his yoga in the back of the truck while it drove over 120 miles to its destination.

Otto trucks only require about $30,000 worth of equipment to retrofit a traditional big rig into a high tech automated vehicle. It requires 3 LIDAR laer detection units, radar on the bumpers, and a high precision camera sitting above the windshield - thats basically it.

The makers of Otto foresee a future where trucks are "just trains on software rails". They foresee their driving copilots as "harbor pilots" who just do the tricky navigation required before and after the highway driving on any given trip.

As with regular Uber cabs, it is still to be seen if semi autonomous of autonomous driving trucks will actually make the roads safer (as is being claimed) or if it will lead to more injuries and death due to some combination of computer and human error.

I am curious to see how long the next autonomous Otto ride will be and which additional obstacles (wind, rain, bumpy roads, etc) it will need to overcome. I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.

If you, or someone you know, has been injured as a result of a truck or auto accident in Baltimore and require treatment, please contact Mid-Atlantic Spinal Rehab & Chiropractic at (443) 842-5500. We would be happy to help!

Dr. Gulitz

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