USPS pilots autonomous long-haul trucking

US national postal operator USPS has begun an autonomous truck trial, 1000 miles between Phoenix Arizona and Dallas, Texas. The vehicles are customised Peterbilt trucks that have been modified by San Diego based autonomous vehicles startup TuSimple.

This is the first autonomous long haul autonomous driving pilot by the postal service.

“This pilot is just one of many ways the Postal Service is innovating and investing in its future,” the USPS said in a press release that cited the possibility of using “a future class of vehicles” to improve service, reduce emissions and save money.

The trial is set to last two weeks and if it works out USPS will sign a longer deal with TuSimple.

The USPS Inspector General outlined a step by step adoption plan for autonomous vehicles two years ago. Earlier this year they put out a request for ideas using autonomous delivery in its fleet. It appears that it is looking at long-haul trucking as a first move as full autonomy could be quite soon as against delivery driving.

The costs of long-haul trucking for USPS has been growing steadily thanks to the US driver shortage, and it already costs the postal operator around $4 billion a year. Self-driving trucks could be an answer to the problem. In addition autonomous trucks do not require rest breaks as drivers do so could do such runs far more efficiently and safely than humans.
For now, however, TuSimple will have a safety driver behind the wheel for the 1,000-mile trip between Phoenix and Dallas, as well as an engineer in the passenger seat monitoring the autonomous systems. In the future, the startup aims to provide “depot-to-depot” service without drivers.

“When the vehicle can operate truly driverless, it will be much more efficient,” said Chuck Price, chief product officer at TuSimple. “We think we complete a coast-to-coast run in two days, where today it takes five.”

Price said that drivers who encounter a TuSimple truck on the interstate between Phoenix and Dallas probably won’t notice: “It’s polite. It uses turn signals. It merges properly. It does all of the things that a professional driver is trained to do.”

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