SAN DIEGO, California — TuSimple, a maker of self-driving trucks, announced this week that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has awarded it a contract to perform five round trips, for a two-week pilot, hauling USPS trailers more than 1,000 miles between the Postal Service’s Phoenix, Arizona, and Dallas, Texas distribution centers. The truck will have a safety engineer and driver on board for the duration of the pilot to monitor vehicle performance and to ensure public safety.
This new route is important for TuSimple as it scales its autonomous operations beyond Arizona and marks the company’s self-driving debut into Texas. TuSimple will run a series of its self-driving trucks for 22 hours each, which includes overnight driving, along the I-10, I-20 and I-30 corridors to make the trip through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The freight that flows along I-10 corridor accounts for 60 percent of the total economic activity in the United States. TuSimple expects this to be a central route for the company because there is already strong demand from other customers for runs between Arizona and Texas.
“It is exciting to think that before many people will ride in a robo-taxi, their mail and packages may be carried in a self-driving truck,” said Dr. Xiaodi Hou, Founder, President, and Chief Technology Officer, TuSimple. “Performing for the USPS on this pilot in this particular commercial corridor gives us specific use cases to help us validate our system, and expedite the technological development and commercialization progress.”
Long-haul routes with short turnaround times, such as this 22-hour journey, are well suited for self-driving trucks because they are normally accomplished with driving teams of two. Driving teams are challenging to recruit due to overnight driving requirements and the need to share close quarters with another person, on top of a significant preexisting truck driver shortage. According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), the driver shortage could reach 175,000 by 2024. TuSimple is on its way to achieving its milestone of first driverless operations which is intended to free human drivers to focus on the shorter, more dynamic and closer to home routes.
The Postal Service is exploring the feasibility of utilizing autonomous delivery vehicle technology to reduce fuel costs, increase safe truck operation and improve its fleet utilization rate through longer hours of operation.