The US Postal Service has entered into a contract with self-driving truck startup TuSimple to haul mail between Dallas and Phoenix. “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,” says TuSimple founder Xiaodi Hou. “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.”
TuSimple will complete five round trips over the next two weeks while a safety engineer and licensed driver ride along in the cab. Its Level 4 self-driving system uses 8 cameras to detect cars, pedestrians, and other obstacles up to 1,000 meters away, even in inclement weather. That compares favorably to the 300-meter range of most Lidar based systems.
According to Venture Beat, TuSimple’s camera-based system allows it to achieve three centimeter precision for truck positioning even in inclement weather and tunnels with plenty of leeway for real time decision making. By keeping aware of traffic flow far ahead, its trucks are able to maintain a given speed more consistently than human drivers and competing autonomous vehicle systems, cutting fuel consumption by as much as 15%.
The USPS has long been interested in self-driving technology. In 2017, a report published by its Inspector General detailed plans to add semi-autonomous mail trucks to its 228,000 vehicle fleet as early as 2025. Placed into service on 28,000 rural routes, they would free up about 310,000 postal workers to sort and deliver packages, resulting in “small but cumulatively significant time savings.”
TuSimple recently completed a $95 million series D financing round. The company has R&D labs in San Diego and test facilities in Tuscon. It expects to close out 2019 with a 200-truck fleet in the US and a 300-truck fleet in China, making it the largest self-driving truck solutions company in the world.
Later this year, TuSimple will operate several self-driving trucks for 22 hours each along the I-10, I-20, and I-30 corridors through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. It says freight along the I-10 corridor accounts for 60% of the US’s total economic activity. It expects its semi-autonomous trucks to be a frequent sight along that route in the months ahead.
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