TuSimple Launches the World's First Autonomous Freight Delivery Service

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【Summary】Self-driving truck startup TuSimple announced today the launch of freight delivery service with some of the world’s leading shipping companies, United Parcel Service (UPS), Penske, U.S. Xpress, and McLane. TuSimple says its the world’s first autonomous freight delivery service.

Jeremy Carlton    Aug 07, 2020 5:45 PM PT
TuSimple Launches the World's First Autonomous Freight Delivery Service

While the auto industry remains focused on developing self-driving cars, a handful of promising startups are developing self-driving trucks that may one transform the shipping industry. The trucking industry is now one step closer towards that goal.

Self-driving truck startup TuSimple announced today the launch of freight delivery service with some of the world's leading shipping companies, including United Parcel Service (UPS), Penske, U.S. Xpress, and McLane.

TuSimple says its the world's first autonomous freight delivery service.

TuSimple was founded in 2015 with the goal of bringing level-4 autonomous driving technology to the trucking industry, which is poised for disruption with technology.

TuSimple says that its freight network should be operational nationwide by 2024 and begin operating some driverless trucks on routes by 2021.

UPS and McLane, which serve convenience stores, mass merchants, drug stores and chain restaurants, already run some shorter test routes in a pilot with TuSimple. Trucking firm US Xpress Enterprises Inc has signed up to start using TuSimple's network soon, a TuSimple spokeswoman told Reuters.

UPS, which is the world's largest package delivery company, announced in August 2019 that it bought a minority stake in San Diego-based TuSimple. The company also revealed that it has been testing the TuSimple autonomous trucks since May 2019 on a busy freight route in Arizona. 

UPS is betting that autonomous vehicle technology can expand more rapidly in commercial vehicles than in robotaxis.

The UPS trucks delivery trucks are an ideal candidate for automation. The trucks operate on fixed 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%, according to TuSimple.

Many industry analysts believe that self-driving trucks will be deployed before vehicles designed to carry passengers. From an engineering standpoint, its easier to develop driverless trucks for highway runs that do not require advanced perception systems designed to operate in urban areas and around pedestrians and bicyclists. 

Mapping highways for self-driving trucks is relatively straightforward and the same type of automated driving technology used to keep passenger cars centered in a highway lane and maintain a fixed speed, such as with Tesla's Autopilot, can be deployed in bigger trucks.

TuSimple executives compare the driverless routes to a railroad, with trucks following set routes like railway links between fixed points.

Self-driving trucks also promise to be much more efficient for fleet operators, as they can be operated 24 hours a day, without having to stop and take breaks like human truck drivers are required to do. Companies are also developing fully-electric and fuel cell semi-trucks, which will eliminate the use of diesel fuel and frequent stops to refuel. 

By 2021, TuSimple plans to operate seven routes between Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso and Dallas as part of its autonomous shipping network. These routes consist almost exclusively of major highways.The second phase rollout will link Phoenix with cities further east, including Nashville, Atlanta and Tampa. By 2024, TuSimple plans to link north to the cities of Chicago, Boston and New York.

The company is hoping that the federal government will come up with a regulatory framework, by then, so that self-driving freight vehicles can operate on public roads in the U.S.

To start, the trucks will not operate without humans. TuSimple currently uses a trained truck driver behind the wheel to monitor the operations at all times, as an engineer in the truck that's responsible to monitor the truck's autonomous driving systems and collect data.

Much of TuSimple's technicial focus is on its long-range perception system, which exceeds that of many self-driving vehicles being developed. The company's perception system is specifically designed for long-haul semi-trucks, which can weigh up to 80,000 pounds when fully loaded. These trucks need ample room to stop, if needed.

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.

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