UPS is looking to all kinds of new-age vehicle technologies to step up its delivery game, with electric vans, e-bikes and drones that carry smaller packages all part of the mix. It is now expressing a keen interest in autonomous heavy haulers, revealing it has spent the last couple of months testing them out along an Arizona highway and has snared a small stake in self-driving startup TuSimple, whose vehicles it used throughout the trials.
This actually isn’t the first time TuSimple’s services have been enlisted by a delivery heavyweight with a view to easing the burden on human drivers. Back in May, the company kicked off trials with the US Postal Service, which adapted its self-driving vehicles for use as autonomous delivery trucks along a stretch of highway between Phoenix, Arizona, and Dallas, Texas.
As required by law, human operators were onboard through the trials to takeover as needed, as they were in the latest trials conducted by UPS. The idea behind these exercises is to validate the autonomous technologies first, with an eye to letting them off the leash some time down the track.
In UPS’ case, the company is using TuSimple’s self-driving trucks to gain a better understanding of Level 4 autonomy, where the vehicle’s computer would control it the entire length of the trip. Since the trials kicked off in May, it has been using the vehicles to deliver loads of goods between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, with an engineer on board along with the driver to keep an eye on proceedings.
And UPS must like what it has seen so far. The company announced today that it has acquired a minority stake in TuSimple. Autonomous trucking has the potential to cut down on fuel expenses and pollution as well as increase safety, and TuSimple believes its technology can play an important role in this future scenario.
“TuSimple is confident that it can accelerate bringing the first self-driving truck to market to increase road safety,” said TuSimple’s Founder, President & CTO, Xiaodi Hou.
Dr. Hans C. Mumm