TuSimple takes humans out of the equation for fully autonomous road trip
Earlier in the year, autonomous transport company TuSimple sent one of its trucks on a 900-mile journey from Arizona to Texas, though human drivers took the wheel for the first and last parts. Now a semi-truck has completed an 80-mile trip on public roads on its own.
Since its founding in 2015, TuSimple has collaborated with some big hitters in the logistics space to test its autonomous trucking systems, including the US Postal Service and UPS. The company currently has 50 trucks in the US as part of a 70-strong global fleet, and is reported to have clocked over 2 million road-tested miles.
Its latest trip was a little different from the others as there weren't any humans in the cab and human operators didn't control the vehicle at any point along the route. The upfitted class 8 semi began its journey – which was undertaken in "close collaboration with the Arizona Department of Transport and law enforcement" – at a Tucson railyard on December 22, and headed for a freight terminal in Phoenix some 80 miles (128 km) away.
Along the way, the onboard Autonomous Driving System comprising LiDAR, radar and HD cameras encountered real-world night-time driving conditions as the semi-truck trundled along streets and highways, including on and off ramps, and interacted with other motorists, made lane changes and turns, and coped with traffic signals. Should you feel inclined, you can ride along for the whole fully autonomous driving test courtesy of the unedited video below.
The vehicle wasn't completely alone on the trial run though, a TuSimple survey vehicle was sent out five miles ahead of the test truck to check for route anomalies, and there was another vehicle behind that served as a safety net and could place the truck in a "minimal risk condition" in the event of trouble. Local law enforcement also escorted the TuSimple convoy as an added precaution.
However, the "Driver Out" pilot went without a hitch and the onboard autonomous systems rolled from Tucson to Phoenix without human assistance in around 80 minutes. You can expect more fully autonomous road trips to follow as the company moves towards its vision of pioneering autonomous freight networks.
"By achieving this momentous technical milestone, we demonstrated the advanced capabilities of TuSimple's autonomous driving system and the commercial maturity of our testing process, prioritizing safety and collaboration every step of the way," said the company's president and CEO, Cheng Lu. "This test reinforces what we believe is our unique position at the forefront of autonomous trucking, delivering advanced driving technology at commercial scale. This year, we were laser-focused on putting our technology through a rigorous test on open public roads under real-world conditions, and to see all our hard work and dedication come together is extremely rewarding."