This video from US technology start-up, TuSimple, shows a truck making a regular daily trip and suggests autonomous trucks may be closer than we think. From personal experience, I can assure you that when you are actually sitting in a truck and it is driving itself on a public road without incident, the penny drops that this is doable.
TuSimple recently announced the United States Postal Service (USPS) has awarded it a contract to perform five round trips, for a two-week pilot, hauling USPS trailers more than 1,600km between the Postal Service’s Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas distribution centres. The truck has 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 into Texas. TuSimple will run a series of its self-driving trucks for 22 hours each, which includes overnight driving, to make the trip through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
The freight that flows alongthis corridor accounts for 60 per cent of the total economic activity in the United States. TuSimple expects this to be a central route for the company because there is already strong demand from other customers for runs between Arizona and Texas.
“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, 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 commercialisation progress.”
Long-haul routes with short turnaround times, such as this 22 hour journey, are well suited for self- driving trucks because they are normally accomplished with two-up driving teams. According to the American Trucking Association, the driver shortage could reach 175,000 by 2024.
The US Postal Service is exploring the feasibility of utilising autonomous delivery vehicle technology to reduce fuel costs, increase safe truck operation and improve its fleet utilisation rate through longer hours of operation.