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March 5, 2020 9:30 AM, EST

TuSimple Expands Autonomous Trucking Program With UPS

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Autonomous-driving technology company TuSimple is expanding its freight-hauling pilot program with UPS to 20 trips a week and adding another route.

The San Diego-based company is already transporting parcels for the shipping giant between Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz. It will now run 10 trips between Phoenix and El Paso, Texas.

TuSimple is using retrofitted trucks for the Level 4 autonomous driving program. The trucks can drive themselves, but regulations require that a safety driver be present in the cab to monitor operations and take control if needed.

The goal of such technology is to — eventually — move the driver out of the cab. TuSimple plans to demonstrate fully driverless operations next year. 

TuSimple projects that its technology can reduce the costs of shipping goods via tractor-trailer by 30%, and said its autonomous driving system is already demonstrating efficiencies. For example, it said the automated trucks are using about 10% less fuel compared to a human-driven truck. Research also found that the virtual driver is more precise on the throttle than a human, since sensors controlling acceleration see farther ahead. That allows the vehicle to maintain efficiencies and to anticipate and avoid slow-moving traffic, TuSimple said.

Host Seth Clevenger went to CES 2020 in Las Vegas and met with Rich Mohr of Ryder Fleet Management Solutions and Stephan Olsen of the Paccar Innovation Center to discuss how high-tech the industry has become. Listen to a snippet above, and to hear the full episode, go to RoadSigns.TTNews.com.

The findings come from a fuel study from the University of California, San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering and TuSimple that extracted driving data for 122 autonomous routes totaling nearly 6,700 miles.

The startup has 18 contracted customers and makes approximately 20 autonomous trips per day. Besides the UPS fleet, it operates more than 40 Peterbilt and International trucks retrofitted with TuSimple autonomous technology. These trucks are used to transport freight autonomously between Arizona and Texas.

UPS is exploring autonomous driving as a way to improve network efficiencies, safety and customer service, said Scott Price, chief strategy and transformation officer at UPS.

“TuSimple has been instrumental to this initiative, so it was a logical next step for us to expand the test to additional routes within our North American freight forwarding lanes,” he said.

UPS’ tests with TuSimple are part of an advanced technology evaluation for vehicles in the UPS Global Smart Logistics Network.

“UPS has been a valued partner of ours since we officially started working together early last year,” said Chuck Price, chief product officer at TuSimple. The pilot program “shows the company’s commitment to innovation and exemplifies why UPS is considered a trailblazer when it comes to exploring and implementing cutting-edge technology.”

Analysts believe that autonomous driving will start with commercial operations, like TuSimple’s contract with UPS, and ride-hailing services. But they are divided on how quickly commercialization will take place.

“We are still far away from living in the world with a truck with no one in the cab driving on the highway. It’s not around the corner,” said Andrej Divis, director of automotive, global heavy truck research at IHS Markit.

But it will start to prove useful soon in contained areas such as ports, mines and distribution centers, where automated vehicles don’t have to deal with the complexity of heavy traffic, pedestrians, bicyclists and other road users, said Michael Ramsey, senior research director at Gartner Inc.

“I think we will eventually see a big impact on trucking and commercial vehicles,” Ramsey said.

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