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UPS Buys Stake in Self-Driving Truck Startup TuSimple, Testing Deliveries Since May

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【Summary】United Parcel Service (UPS) said on Thursday it has bought a minority stake in San Diego-based self-driving truck startup TuSimple. UPS, which is the world’s largest package delivery company, also revealed that is has been testing TuSimple's autonomous trucks since May on a busy freight route in Arizona.

Eric Walz    Aug 15, 2019 12:45 PM PT
UPS Buys Stake in Self-Driving Truck Startup TuSimple, Testing Deliveries Since May
A TuSimple self-driving truck

United Parcel Service (UPS) said on Thursday it has bought a minority stake in San Diego-based self-driving company TuSimple. UPS, which is the world's largest package delivery company, also revealed that is has been testing the TuSimple autonomous trucks since May on a busy freight route in Arizona.

The investment in TuSimple comes from UPS Ventures, the venture capital arm of UPS. The companies did not disclose the dollar amount of the investment. 

In February TuSimple said it had raised $95 million from Chinese online media company Sina Corp, which valued the startup at $1 billion. TuSimple's other major investors include and U.S. chipmaker Nvidia Corp. Nvidia is building processors and other hardware to support autonomous driving for TuSimple as well as for other industry partners.

Although it could take years to test and develop self-driving vehicles and for the government to build out a regulatory framework, UPS sees the early investment as a way to apply emerging autonomous driving features like lane departure technology, advanced braking systems or vision technology in its own fleet in the short term, said Todd Lewis, managing partner at UPS Ventures to Reuters. 

These features are already available today on passenger vehicles are part of advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), such as Tesla's Autopilot.

"From the regulatory perspective there is a long way to go," Lewis added. "But the technology has a ton of implications today."

TuSimple, founded in 2015, is working with U.S. truck manufacturer Peterbilt, outfitting semi-trucks with cameras, lidar, and radar for autonomous driving. The company was founded in 2015 with the goal of bringing level-4 autonomous driving technology to the trucking industry.

The company bills itself as a software company, with a foundation in computer vision, algorithms, mapping and AI.

Much of TuSimple's focus on on its long-range perception system, which far exceeds that of autonomous cars currently being tested. The perception system is specifically designed for long-haul semi-trucks which can weight up to 80,000 pounds when fully loaded. 

A fully-loaded truck take much longer to stop than a passenger car, so it's important to be able to see objects much further ahead in order for the autonomous driving software to react in time.

TuSimple's perception system has a vision range of 1,000 meters, which is further than any other autonomous perception system today, according to the company.

TuSimple is also working with Amazon, as the online retail giant builds out its own transportation ecosystem. Amazon supports TuSimple through its subsidiary Amazon Web Services (AWS). TuSimple is leveraging Amazon's cloud services to power its driverless vehicles using Apache MXNet. 

Self-Driving Trucks May Appear Before Driverless Cars

While most of the current talk in the automotive industry surrounds self driving passenger cars, experts say self-driving trucks are an easier to deploy than robotaxis designed to carry passengers. It's less challenging from an engineering standpoint to deploy autonomous technology on highways, where are no pedestrians, bicyclists or busy urban intersections to deal with.

The UPS trucks delivery trucks are an ideal candidate for automation. The trucks operate on predictable highway routes 24 hours a day. By operating at night, autonomous trucks fleets can be more efficient, increasing truck utilization from an average of 50% to around 80%.

Robotaxis on the other hand, must deal with a complex urban driving environment picking up and drop off passengers at random locations, at random times, mostly during the day, leaving driverless fleets largely idle overnight. This random business model also requires more extensive, costly HD mapping.

"The economics for a robotaxi are just not as strong as for a truck," TuSimple Chief Financial Officer Cheng Lu told Reuters. "And a lot of investors see it that way as well."

TuSimple also operated a two-week pilot for the U.S. Postal Service earlier this year transporting mail across three Southwestern states, including Interstate 10, which runs across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Chief Product Officer Chuck Price told Reuters that TuSimple is currently evaluating the results of that test.

resource from: Reuters

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