US Postal Service Testing Autonomous Big Rigs

The United States Postal Service (USPS), has contracted self-driving trucking company TuSimple to haul packages as part of a two-week trial of the company’s autonomous technology. The company will handle the delivery of mail on five round trips between the USPS’s Phoenix, Arizona, and Dallas distribution centers, which amounts to more than 1,000 miles of travel.

The trials will include overnight driving, and the autonomous trucks from the trucking company will have a safety driver, as well as an engineer on board in order to make sure the tests run properly, and to act in case something goes wrong.

On top of this trial, the USPS has also been busy with trying to create an all-electric version of the next-generation mail delivery vehicle.

TuSimple has been expanding its operations slowly across the country, starting at Arizona, noted for being welcoming for startup testing, with 11 trucks mobile by January 2019. The company already has 12 clients on its tests, as of May, as their way to offset the costs of developing autonomous technology. The USPS deal will be the trucking company’s first testing in Texas.

TuSimple was founded earlier in 2015, and, since that time, has managed to raise $178 million, with Nvidia, and China’s Sina, as its biggest backers. The startup has two headquarters, one on US soil, in San Diego, California, with another located at Beijing.

TuSimple utilizes Navistar trucks outfitted with their own self-driving technology, which uses nine cameras, and on-board LIDAR sensors, but the company, much like Tesla, is working on creating a vision-based autonomous system.

Founder XiadiHou says that TuSimple is developing an autonomous system in contrast to ‘Level 2’ systems, as he believes in setting themselves apart from others in the market. Level 2 systems still have a human in control, and are a notable investment for a lot of companies on the development market.

That being said, he admits that it’s quite a challenge, though he also points out that people are underestimating how autonomous vehicles are progressing, especially in fields like trucking, where development and operations can happen alongside, and simultaneous to, each other.