Autonomous truck startup TuSimple has completed its first autonomous truck ride on a public road without a human in the vehicle, according to the company. TuSimple’s Autonomous Driving System (ADS) navigated 100% of the 80-mile run along streets and highways between a railroad yard in Tuscon, Arizona and a distribution center in Phoenix, which took place without human intervention, marking a milestone for the company as it strives to advance its technology. scale up to purpose-built trucks by 2024, says President and CEO Cheng Lu.
TuSimple’s 1-hour, 20-minute drive along I-10, a major freight route that runs from Los Angeles, California to Jacksonville, Florida, naturally fits into the company’s future commercial operations, in part because it has parking facilities. in Tuscon, said Lu. Although the truck was carrying preloaded cargo, the focus of the sea trial was technological rather than commercial. In the past year and a half, the company has completed 1,800 runs for a total of 150,000 miles on this stretch of highway, and plans to continue its driver-out program into 2022.
“Having full commercial-scale implementation is the logical next step and an important part of this evolution of our technology,” Lu told BestFitnessBands. “We need to have all the functions on one route and one type of vehicle that you can use without a driver on the road, and have the confidence level needed to disable the driver. And that’s important R&D engineering work. If you can demonstrate that you can safely remove the driver, even on the route of one commercial operator, it is no longer a scientific project. It is technical work, and it takes time and capital and a lot of hard work from our team, but we are confident that we will be the first to have the full commercial deployment of autonomous trucks.”
The autonomous truck startup isn’t the first company to establish driver operations in Arizona, a state with favorable AV testing and commercialization regulations that is trying to position itself as a leader in autonomous driving. Waymo, for example, the autonomous driving arm of Alphabet, has been running self-driving robotic axis operations in Phoenix since October last year. According to Lu, driving on the highway is more challenging than driving in the city, where reaction times and the ability to drive the vehicle safely are much easier due to the lower speed limits.
“The challenge of a truck, when you think of an 80,000-pound Class 8 vehicle, it’s driving on the highway at much higher speeds, like 65 miles per hour, and it’s significantly heavier and harder to drive, harder to break,” he said. “The security implications, the reliability, are much greater.”
TuSimple’s pilot demonstrates that for at least this operational design domain, the company has achieved Level 4 autonomous technology, which is defined by SAE as a system that can fully control itself and does not require a human being. TuSimple’s Class 8 truck ran in favorable weather between 9 p.m. and midnight, which Lu says is when many trucks actually work. According to the company, the ADS navigated streets, traffic lights, slip roads, emergency lane vehicles and lane changes in open traffic.
For safety reasons, unmarked police vehicles followed about a mile behind the truck in case the truck came to an emergency stop. In addition, TuSimple implemented a research vehicle to look for anomalies traveling five miles ahead, as well as a surveillance vehicle half a mile behind that could bring the autonomous truck into a minimal-risk condition.
“I think it’s important for this industry to move forward, public opinion and our comfort with driverless trucks on the road, and that takes time to build,” Lu said. “To take that first step, it’s important to take a lot of safety measures.”
TuSimple currently uses base retrofit trucks from Navistar, one of the company’s OEM partnerships announced last year, but it plans to jointly develop semi-trucks specifically designed for autonomous operations by 2024 and supply it to third parties. can sell, says Lu.
“Commercializing driver-out technology means creating a holistic solution that allows autonomous trucks to move cargo from terminal to terminal at scale,” said Lu. “Today we use autonomous trucks to transport cargo with safety drivers and drive in fully autonomous mode. This achievement allows us to show that we can do this without a safety driver on one route (not a human at all). Our next step in commercialization is to add more reliability, which requires purpose-built trucks with OEM partners to scale the number of trucks on the road without a driver.”
In mid-December, DHL Supply Chain reserved 100 of these autonomous trucks to integrate into its operations, bringing TuSimple’s total reservation order to 6,875 trucks. The Traton Group, the heavy truck business of Volkswagen AG, has also signed an agreement with TuSimple to co-develop self-driving trucks. Both OEM partners have a minority stake in TuSimple.
The first generation of trucks will be built with a steering wheel for certain operations in the yard, such as switching gears or separating and moving the tractor and trailer, which will initially have to be done by hand, says Lu.
“Finally, [reaching L4 capabilities] is what we need to solve the very big problem we face in the freight industry, which is the lack of freight capacity,” said Lu. “On the one hand, the demand for truck drivers and trucks continues to grow with e-commerce and the on-demand economy, but the supply side is not looking good. We have a driver shortage, significant driver turnover, safety costs are rising and of course we care about the environment. All these things lead to a bottleneck in the supply chain.
“If you play this without new technology, it doesn’t get any better, and you and I don’t want to be truck drivers, our kids don’t want to be truck drivers. So we really need to get to level 4.”