Uber Inc. has already rocked the world of taxi operators and soon could do the same to trucking companies and freight haulers if its latest venture takes off.
The privately owned San Francisco-based ride hailing company is expanding its fleet of trucks to about 15 from six, the company told Reuters, and is partnering with independent truckers. Next year, the company said it intends to begin hauling freight.
Because a truck represents a larger investment than a car (and generates actual revenue), the need to shrink the cost of sensors and other advanced technology is less than for a consumer product like a self-driving car.
The venture initially could provide software logistics to the highly complicated and fragmented world of freight hauling, which could be transferable to automobiles. Eventually, Uber visualizes a dawn of highly-automated trucks, though early software first could be used to locate and track freight, as well as to optimize freight transfer among factories, ports, shippers and end users.
Lior Ron, Anthony Levandowski, a founder of Alphabet Inc.'s (GOOGL) - Get Report self-driving car project, and two other former Google engineers sold their self-driving truck startup Otto to Uber over the summer for a price estimated at about $680 million. Uber has been valued at about $68 billion, based on invested capital.
Speaking about the development of automated trucking and shipping, Ron said: "It's still a very hard problem, but all the building blocks are there, and it's much simpler than city driving. We can show autonomy sooner rather than later, showing the path for the rest of society."
Ron, who graduated from Israel's Technion university and Stanford University's business school, previously worked for Google maps. His LinkedIn profile says he managed intelligence software and developers for the Israel Defense Forces.
Automakers such as Ford Motor Co. (F) - Get Report , General Motors Co. (GM) - Get Report and Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY) have said they will begin rolling out advanced autonomous vehicles within four to five years; the most difficult software hurdle to driverless cars remains the unpredictability and chaos of urban traffic and pedestrians.
In trucking, semi-autonomous vehicles can be operated for long stretches of highway relatively simply and safely, thus creating the possibility of a revenue stream sooner than with cars.
Unlike cars, trucks might self-drive for hundreds of miles on highways before pulling over to be operated by a human driver on smaller thoroughfares or in cities.
In the case of large trucks, however, accidents caused by software mistakes and malfunctions will be potentially more disastrous than with cars. Ron has said he will cooperate with state and federal safety regulators. He told MIT Tech Report that several states, including Nevada, have invited him to conduct testing on their roads.
Doron Levin is the host of "In the Driver Seat," broadcast on SiriusXM Insight 121, Saturday at noon, encore Sunday at 9 a.m.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.