United Parcel Service announced on Thursday that they are investing in a company called TuSimple that makes self-driving diesels for use in the trucking industry.
Through the early summer, UPS has been testing them out between Phoenix and Tucson. Before that, the United States Postal Service did a two week trial of the technology between Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas. That test passed with flying colors also.
The aim is to build a totally autonomous delivery vehicle to ease the burden on human drivers and increase overall efficiency. Meanwhile, they are racking up some serious training hours.
UPS is hoping that TuSimple will be able to create a system at the “level 4” designation of autonomy. That means that the computer would have full control of the vehicle from start to destination. To Artificial Intelligence programmers, Level 4 means “full autonomy that’s locked to a designated geographic location.”
For both the trial programs, there was an on board engineer along with a fully qualified professional driver behind the wheel.
Company officials aren’t talking about how much cash that UPS is funneling into the program but the potential benefits are enormous. Robot trucks are expected to cut down on both fuel expenses and pollution while increasing safety at the same time.
“TuSimple is confident that it can accelerate bringing the first self-driving truck to market to increase road safety,” notes the company’s founder, Xiaodi Hou. TuSimple’s trucks are equipped with Navistar self-driving technology, which uses nine cameras and two LIDAR sensors to get information from the real world. They are currently working on improving a vision-based system similar to Tesla’s. They already have backing from Nvidia and a Chinese technology company called Sina.
Self-driving trucks are more practical than other self-driving prototypes because they can run along standardized highway routes, which have limited access. There generally aren’t any pedestrians suddenly stepping onto the highway.
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They also work around the clock, including in the early hours of the morning when driving conditions are ideal for shipping. Robot taxis on the other hand mostly sit unused through the early morning hours.
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