California-based self-driving truck company TuSimple has started long-haul autonomous deliveries for the United States Postal Service (USPS), transporting mail between logistics hubs in Arizona and Texas.
For the two-week long pilot project, TuSimple has awarded been contracted to perform five round trips, hauling USPS trailers more than 1,000 miles (1,600km) between the Postal Service’s Phoenix (Arizona) and Dallas (Texas) distribution centers. The truck will have a safety engineer and driver on board for the duration of the pilot to monitor vehicle performance and to ensure public safety. This new route is an important milestone as TuSimple scales its autonomous operations beyond Arizona and marks the company’s self-driving debut in Texas. TuSimple will run a series of its self-driving trucks for 22 hours each, which includes overnight driving, along the I-10, I-20 and I-30 corridors to make the trip through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
The freight that flows along I-10 corridor accounts for 60% of the USA’s total economic activity. TuSimple expects this to be a central route for the company because there is already strong demand from other customers for automated freight runs between Arizona and Texas. Long-haul routes with short turnaround times, such as the 22-hour journey for USPS, are well suited for self-driving trucks because they are normally accomplished with driving teams of two. Haulage operators find that driving teams are difficult to recruit due to overnight driving requirements, the need to share close quarters with another person, and a significant truck driver shortage. According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), the driver shortage could reach 175,000 by 2024. TuSimple is on its way to achieving its milestone of the first fully-driverless operations, which are intended to free human drivers to focus on shorter, more dynamic and closer to home routes.
USPS is exploring the feasibility of using autonomous delivery vehicle technology to reduce fuel costs, increase safe truck operation, and improve its fleet usage rate through longer hours of operation. Over its 240 years of service, the Postal Service played an indispensable role in providing the country with a vital delivery platform, serving every business and home address. TuSimple is aiming to boost the USA’s US$800bn trucking industry by increasing safety, reducing carbon emissions and transportation costs and optimizing logistics for fleet operators. With a 3,280 feet (1,000m) vision range, the company says its SAE Level 4 autonomous trucks are safer for long-haul delivery trips because they can see more and react faster than human beings, in all weather conditions, day or night.
“It is exciting to think that before many people will ride in a robo-taxi, their mail and packages may be carried in a self-driving truck,” said Dr. Xiaodi Hou, founder, president and chief technology officer at TuSimple. “Performing for the USPS on this pilot in this particular commercial corridor gives us specific use cases to help us validate our system, and expedite the technological development and commercialization progress.”