Robot-trucking startup TuSimple, whose valuation hit $1.1 billion this year, has a contract to haul mail for the United States Postal Service in a paid trial that kicks off, the federal agency’s first such project and a high-profile demonstration of on-highway autonomous technology.
The program runs for two weeks, during which three of San Diego-based TuSimple’s self-driving semis are to complete five roundtrips hauling trailers loaded with mail between USPS distribution facilities in Phoenix and Dallas, or more than 1,000 miles each way. Each truck will have a safety engineer and driver on board to monitor performance. The company is being paid commercial shipping rates but isn’t disclosing the value of the project.
Although Alphabet Waymo operates a modest robo-taxi service in suburban Phoenix, and companies including GM’s Cruise, Zoox, Uber and Lyft all plan to have on-demand, autonomous ride services, perfecting the technology to do that in tricky urban settings is likely to take longer than some advocates anticipated. By contrast, opportunities for AI-enabled systems for trucks that operate mainly on less complex highways–especially on long-haul routes where there’s a driver shortage–appear to be on a faster path to large-scale commercialization.