Autonomous Trucking Startup TuSimple Completes 80-Mile Driverless Test Run on Public Roads

Autonomous trucking startup TuSimple has completed its first autonomous truck run on open public roads without a human in the vehicle, according to the company. TuSimple’s Autonomous Driving System (ADS) navigated 100% of the 80-mile run along surface streets and highways between a railyard in Tuscon, Arizona and a distribution center in Phoenix, which took place with no human intervention, marking a milestone for the company that aims to scale its technology into purpose-built trucks by 2024, says president and CEO Cheng Lu.

TuSimple’s one-hour and 20-minute drive along the I-10, which is a major freight route that runs from Los Angeles, California to Jacksonville, Florida, fits naturally into the company’s future commercial operations, in part because it has parking facilities set up in Tuscon, Lu said. While the truck did carry pre-loaded cargo, the focus of the pilot run was technological, rather than commercial. Over the last one and a half years, the company has performed 1,800 runs to the tune of 150,000 miles on this stretch of highway, and plans to continue testing its driver-out program into 2022.

“It’s the logical next step and a key part of this evolution of our technology to have full commercial scale deployment,” Lu told TechCrunch. “We have to have on one route and one type of vehicle the ability to have all the features that you can operate without a driver on the road, and to have the level of reliability that’s required to take the driver out. And that’s significant R&D engineering work. When you can demonstrate that you can safely remove the driver, even on one commercial operator route, it’s no longer a science project. It’s engineering work, and it takes time and capital and a lot of hard work from our team, but we’re very confident that we’ll be the first to have full-scale commercial deployment of autonomous trucks.”

The autonomous trucking startup isn’t the first company to achieve driver-out operations in Arizona, a state with favorable AV testing and commercializing regulations that is trying to position itself as the leader in autonomous driving. Waymo, for example, the autonomous driving arm of Alphabet, has been running driverless robotaxi operations in Phoenix since October last year. Lu reckons highway driving is more challenging than urban driving, where reaction times and abilities to operate the vehicle safely are much simpler because of the slower speed limits.

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SOURCE: TechCrunch, Rebecca Bellan

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