Automated & Connected

(Image courtesy: TuSimple, Inc.)
 

USPS trials self-driving semi-trailer trucks

The two-week pilot with program with TuSimple – staged on one of the country’s significant trucking corridors – may be a decisive case study for the operational efficiency of autonomous logistics.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has partnered with San Diego-based TuSimple, Inc. to test the feasibility of using self-driving trucks to haul mail-laden USPS trailers across long distances. TuSimple, which specializes in autonomous trucks, will perform five round trips between USPS distribution centers in Phoenix and Dallas over the course of a two-week pilot program. USPS will use the program to assess factors like fuel cost reduction, operational safety, and fleet utilization rates.

The Class-8 vehicles – or semi-trailer trucks – will cover more than 1,000 miles over the course of the five 22-hour trips, travelling along the I-10, 1-20, and I-30 interstate corridors through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Each truck will have a safety engineer on board at all times to monitor vehicle performance and to ensure public safety.

“It is exciting to think that before many people will ride in a robo-taxi, their mail and packages may be carried in a self-driving truck,” says TuSimple’s Founder, President, and Chief Technology Officer, Dr. Xiaodi Hou. “Performing for the USPS on this pilot in this particular commercial corridor gives us specific use cases to help us validate our system and expedite the technological development and commercialization progress.”

 

 

Long-haul routes with short turnaround times are normally accomplished with two-member driving teams. Companies often face recruitment challenges when hiring long haul teams due to overnight driving requirements, the need to share close quarters with another person, and a significant shortage of qualified truck drivers – with an estimated workforce deficit of 175,000 drivers by 2024 according to the American Trucking Association (ATA).

With driverless long-haul operations, companies like TuSimple could potentially free human drivers to focus on shorter, more dynamic, and closer-to-home routes. The company’s trucks are the first in the industry to be able to navigate autonomously from depot to depot, whereas most other self-driving trucks are limited to highway-only autonomous operation.

 

(Image courtesy: TuSimple, Inc.)

 

The technology could also boost the $800-billion U.S. trucking industry by increasing safety, reducing carbon emissions and transportation costs, and optimizing logistics for fleet operators. According to the company, its autonomous solutions have the potential to reduce operating costs by 28 percent over traditional long-haul operations.

 

Read more: Nvidia’s new Level 2+ autonomy platform is making cars safer today

 

Partnered with Nvidia Corporation for processing hardware and software, and Amazon Web Services for data management and deep learning modeling support, TuSimple uses a layered “array of perception and localization sensors and data” and artificial intelligence (AI) detection algorithms on its trucks for tracking stationary and moving objects in real time. At 1,000 meters out, the perception system has 30 seconds to assess and classify an object and its velocity and intent. The system is able to maintain position accuracy down to one decimeter (under four inches).

 

 

The company is currently developing International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 26262 and Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) Level 5 Controls – or software – into every system, hardware, software, purchasing, and production processes to meet stringent ISO/PAS 21448 safety of the intended function (SOTIF) standard certification. TuSimple will also register to International Automotive Task Force (IATF) 16949, the Automotive Quality Management System.

 

Read more: SAE International Releases Updated Visual Chart for Its “Levels of Driving Automation” Standard for Self-Driving Vehicles

 

From an autonomy perspective, TuSimple’s goal is to operate trucks at an SAE International Level 4 degree of autonomy without a driver present in limited operational design domains (ODD). For now, this would exclude dynamic or hazardous routes such as snowy, high-grade, or mountainous roads.

 

 

Working with USPS on this new route marks an important milestone for TuSimple as the company scales its autonomous operations beyond Arizona and with its self-driving debut into Texas. The freight that flows along I-10 corridor accounts for 60 percent of the total economic activity in the United States. TuSimple expects this to be a central route for the company because there is already strong demand from other customers for runs between the two states.

 

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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at william.kucinski@sae.org.