The field of autonomous transport is set to take a major step forward in the next couple of years, as US logistics provider TuSimple says it will start a cross-country self-driving truck service by 2022.
The service will run from Los Angeles in the west to Jacksonville in Florida in the east. By 2023, TuSimple says it will also add major shipping routes around all US states but Alaska and Hawaii. After that, China and Europe are on the horizon.
Currently, the service runs 50 freight hauls per week for UPS between Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona but the plan is to double this rate over the next few years and add in El Paso, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio in Texas.
Further afield, the company has announced it is working with other logistics partners, too. These partners include Xpress Enterprises, Penske Trucking, and McLane, a grocery distributor owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway.
TuSimple uses Navistar trucks fitted with its own self-driving technology, which uses a combination of LIDAR and optical cameras. The ultimate aim is to introduce fully driverless systems to the road network, but for the moment a human operator is still required to be present to take over driving duties if necessary.
TuSimple is backed by Chinese tech firm Sina and Nvidia and is valued at more than $1bn. But success is far from guaranteed in the autonomous transport world: ride-hailing giant Uber has canned its own plans for self-driving trucks after one of its prototypes killed a pedestrian in Arizona. Meanwhile, a competitor for TuSimple, Starsky Robotics, went under after it failed to find sufficient funding.
But there’s little doubt that the juggernaut of self-driving cars and trucks is set to roll on, as other players in the space are chasing TuSimple’s lead. Waymo, owned by Alphabet, has already tested self-driving tractor-trailer tech in Texas and Georgia, while automotive giant Daimler is also working on similar tech.
There are other newcomers at play in the space, too, like embark and Plus.ai. So the fully driverless truck might not quite be here, but it’s only just around the corner.