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Autonomous driving company TuSimple has reached a deal with German vehicle components maker ZF Friedrichshafen to develop and commercialize technology for autonomous trucks.
A global manufacturer of transmissions and other parts for passenger cars, trucks and buses, ZF is pushing into electric powertrains and other advanced technology for transportation.
Under this partnership, which starts in April and includes potential sales in North America, Europe and China, TuSimple and ZF will co-develop production-quality technologies including cameras, lidar, radar, steering and ZF’s automotive-grade central computer ZF ProAI. The German company will become the supplier for the system when a version is production-ready for commercial vehicles.
TuSimple sees pairing with a mature, global supplier as an important milestone.
“Working side by side with ZF to refine and integrate our production-ready technology has allowed us to optimize our hardware stack and focus on scaling these technologies to make it possible for autonomous-ready trucks to be mass produced,” Chuck Price, TuSimple’s chief product officer, said in a March 26 news release.
“ZF has been very aggressive in pursuing new business models, and TuSimple is a good potential partner, as it appears to be one of the startups that could make it past the inevitable culling that will occur in the industry. The pairing gives ZF a nice platform and TuSimple a good source of support to help it scale,” said Michael Ramsey, senior research director at Gartner Inc.
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TuSimple already is using retrofitted trucks to test what’s known as SAE Level 4 autonomous driving. 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 company is running 20 trips a week with the trucks, hauling parcels for UPS on two routes — Phoenix to Tucson, Ariz., and Phoenix to El Paso, Texas.
ZF will provide engineering support to validate and integrate TuSimple’s autonomous system into the vehicle.
“A key success factor for virtual driver software is to ensure the system is based on an automotive-grade level, including component development and production. The combination of ZF automotive system competencies and TuSimple’s virtual driver software will create the first commercial-ready, automotive-grade autonomous truck technology platform,” said Torsten Gollewski, ZF’s executive vice president of autonomous mobility systems.
TuSimple eventually wants to develop trucks that can operate in a complete self-driving mode and don’t have a driver in the cab. The company said it will use its Level 4 system to demonstrate fully driverless operations next year.
Including the UPS vehicles, the company operates a fleet of more than 40 trucks retrofitted with its autonomous driving technology. It is using the vehicles to haul freight for 18 contracted customers. The freight hauling is part of its technology development efforts.
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