- TuSimple is working with UPS Supply Chain Solutions to expand its Autonomous Freight Network and begin commercial runs to UPS North American Air Freight terminals in Orlando, Florida, and Charlotte, North Carolina, TuSimple announced Wednesday.
- TuSimple and UPS have been partners for nearly three years, accumulating more than 160,000 autonomous miles, according to the technology maker. The autonomy system has yielded more than 13% fuel savings, compared to human drivers, "when operated in the optimal long-haul operating band from 55 to 68 miles per hour," TuSimple said.
- There are still some kinks to work out, when it comes keeping the equipment moving, TuSimple CEO Cheng Lu told Transport Dive. "Carriers, shippers — they expect very high uptime," which is a benefit of autonomy in general, he said, as the technology isn't beholden to human limitations. But "the truth is, we have some ways to go to make sure that uptime is ... where we want it to be."
Fleets often ask TuSimple why they should make reservations for the equipment now, considering the state of autonomous technology and regulation, Lu said. The truck may be years away from being delivered, but it will take time to integrate into a fleet.
"This is not a technology or product that you can just drive off the lot three years from now," Lu said.
The equipment has to integrate with operations, lanes and the TMS — and if fleets do that work ahead of time, they can start making money with the trucks sooner.
"It's plug-and-play, rather than having that new learning curve," Lu said. "I think the forward-looking customers understand that."
Fleets continue to take sides with the big autonomous companies, a show of confidence in the industry as a whole. In September, FedEx announced a partnership with Paccar and autonomy developer Aurora to test autonomous vehicles. Aurora's technology will be installed in Paccar models, in trial runs for FedEx.
Customers also see the "tremendous economic argument" for autonomous trucks, which TuSimple Chief Product Officer Chuck Price pointed out at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo in Long Beach, California, in September.
Part of the economic argument is fuel savings, Lu said. "That, in itself, is a business case already for autonomous technologies."
TuSimple and its competitors tend to focus on the easiest tasks for the autonomous trucks. That is, instead of worrying about obscure lanes, the focus has been on prominent interstate lanes between big cities, such as Orlando and Charlotte in the case of Wednesday's announcement.
But, as Lu said, TuSimple's customers will demand maximum uptime. Lu categorized uptime into two parts: operations and reliability.
Operations includes automatic software updates and pre- and post-trip work, which are all going to change as the technology develops, Lu said. And that will have an impact on uptime. Reliability encompasses the physical maintenance. Right now, the prototype trucks are retrofitted tractors using non-automotive-grade components, Lu said. Some pieces, such as the the sensors, are sample components.
Both categories will improve as TuSimple continues to work with fleets in real-word operations and as the supply chain for components "matures," Lu said.