(Reuters) – The U.S. postal service on Tuesday started a two-week test transport mail across three South-western states with the help of self-driving lorries, a step forward in the fight for the commercialization of autonomous vehicles for the transport of freight.
The TuSimple self-driving truck is pictured in this undated photo handout obtained by Reuters May 20, 2019. TuSimple/handout via REUTERS
San Diego-based startup TuSimple said the self-driving trucks will begin hauling of mail between USPS facilities in Phoenix and Dallas to see how the new technology would improve the delivery times and costs. A safety of the driver sit behind the wheel to intervene if necessary and an engineer will be riding in the passenger seat.
If successful, it would mark an achievement for the autonomous driving industry and a possible solution to the driver shortage and regulatory constraints faced by the haulers across the country.
The pilot program includes five round trips, each in a total of more than 2,100 miles (3,380 km), or about 45 hours away. It is unclear whether self-driving and the e-mail delivery will continue after the two-week pilot.
“Working with TuSimple is our first initiative in the autonomous long-haul transportation,” USPS spokeswoman Kim Frum said. “We are conducting research and testing as part of our efforts to work on a future class of vehicles that are equipped with new technology.”
TuSimple and the USPS refused if the cost of the program, but Frum said no tax dollars were used, and the agency is based on the revenue from the sale of postage stamps and other products. TuSimple has raised $178 million in private funding, including chipmaker Nvidia Corp and the Chinese online media company Sina Corp
The trucks will be located on a major highways and drive through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
“This is really in the sweet spot of how we believe autonomous cars will be used,” said TuSimple Chief Product Officer Chuck Price. “These long runs are out of the reach of a single human driver, which means that today is the day when they run they have to figure out how to cover it with multiple drivers in the vehicle.”
The goal is to eliminate the need for a driver, freeing shippers and freight haulers of the limitations of a worsening of the driver shortage. The American Trucking Associations estimates a shortage of as many as 174,500 drivers 2024, due to the ageing of the population and the difficulty of attracting younger drivers.
A new safety law that the drivers for the electronic reporting their miles further limited how fast and efficient fleets to move goods.
TuSimple the tie-up with the USPS is an achievement for the young self-driving truck industry, and follows Swedish company Einride’s accession to the cargo delivery with the help of unmanned electric trucks on the public road, announced last week.
The developments contrast with cut down on the efforts of robotaxi companies such as General Motors Co unit Cruise, Uber Technologies Inc and boot drive.ai, who stumbled into the building self-driving cars that can anticipate and respond to people and navigating urban areas, a costly and technologically challenging feat.
Price said self-driving trucks have advantages over passenger cars, including the relative ease of the operation on the highways, in comparison with the centres of the cities, resulting in a mapping of requirements and security challenges, in which pedestrians and cyclists.
Reporting by Heather Somerville in San Francisco; Editing by Lisa Shumaker