Self-driving cars get all of the hype, but it may well be self-driving trucks that have the most impact in the next several years. Trucks spend hours upon hours upon hours on the highway, and the highway is actually one of the easier places to implement automated driving (hence “Cruise Control”). There’s testing going on by a few firms around the world, but we’re yet to see this option really mature and take off. For now, though, the testing seems noteworthy and continues to pique my interest.
The latest news I’ve seen is that autonomous trucking company TuSimple has recently completed various completely autonomous test drives on public roads in China. One would think this has been done numerous times before, but the company claims that this is actually the first time such a self-driving truck test was done without a human inside the truck. You can watch a video of this historic drive here:
This isn’t the first time TuSimple has run a completely driverless test, though. And there are good and bad points to that. The previous driverless test run was done in Arizona, USA, in December 2021. (And this was two years after we reported that USPS would use self-driving TuSimple trucks in that region between Phoenix and Dallas — which apparently never came to pass.) The good news is that TuSimple is still working on improving this capability and has done a test in the biggest market in the world. The questionable news is that the previous test run was in 2021. That seems like a long time between tests. One would hope they’d jump from one driverless test run to another more quickly, and advance to commercialization of the technology before too long. After all, we want to see TuSimple succeed, not crash and burn like a million other startups. Though, it did also recently conduct some driverless testing on an expressway in Japan.
But let’s get back to the news and the evolution we can celebrate today.
First of all, note that TuSimple was one of the first companies to get a fully driverless test license in China, which it got last month. “TuSimple is among the first batch of companies to be awarded, thus enabling the Company to conduct SAE Level 4 fully autonomous Driver Out testing in the designated test areas of Yangshan Deep-water Port and Donghai Bridge. Shanghai is also set to become the first city in China to pass legislation to allow Level 4 fully driverless testing of autonomous trucks,” the company wrote at the time. Here’s more on that news:
“In February 2023, Shanghai officially launched and implemented the “Implementation Rules for Promoting the Innovation and Application of Fully Driverless Intelligent Connected Vehicles”, which is the first local legislation in China focused on the innovation and application of fully driverless intelligent and connected vehicles. It provides a legal foundation and institutional support for fully driverless intelligent connected vehicles to carry out various innovation and application activities such as on-road testing, demonstrations, and commercial operations in Lingang New Area.
“The process of obtaining this fully driverless license included a series of meticulous technical validation tests, including closed-area scenario testing, system simulation testing, cybersecurity testing, and open-road testing over thousands of kilometers without human intervention. Safety was a key component in the validation tests, encompassing comprehensive safety management systems, emergency response plans, and other measures to help ensure the safety, dependability, and compliance of the autonomous driving system.
“In 2018, TuSimple China, a subsidiary of TuSimple, commenced autonomous testing activities in Lingang New Area of Shanghai. As of June 2023, TuSimple China has accumulated test mileage of over 600,000 kilometers and achieved zero incidents and road violations.”
A week after sharing that news, TuSimple reported that it “has successfully completed China’s first fully autonomous semi-truck run on open public roads without a human in the vehicle and without human intervention.” The test run went for about 62 kilometers (km). TuSimple said this involved navigating “complex road and weather conditions in both urban and highway environments within the port area,” including using, implementing, and responding to “traffic signals, on-ramps, off-ramps, lane changes, emergency lane vehicles, partial lane closures, fog, and crosswinds.”
While I mentioned earlier the long(ish) gap from the Arizona self-driving test to the China one, the fact is that TuSimple has been hard at work improving and refining its autonomous driving tech. “The Driver Out program in China represents more than two years of intense development, demonstrating TuSimple’s commitment to developing an autonomous driving system that fulfills the SAE Level 4 requirements, with a strong emphasis on redundancy, reliability, and stability to enable safe and fully driverless operations on open roads,” the company summarizes.
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