Chinese Startup TuSimple Plans Autonomous Trucking Service in Arizona for 2019

Are commercial trucks the next phase of the autonomous-driving revolution?

Tusimple

A Chinese startup is making plans to test autonomous semi trucks in the United States, challenging Uber and other entities in what is becoming the next big trend in autonomous driving. TuSimple was granted a permit to test autonomous vehicles on California roads in June, but it's already eyeing a bigger prize. The company hopes to introduce a commercial autonomous trucking service in 2019, according to Bloomberg

Pending regulatory approval, the trucks will operate on a 120-mile stretch of highway between Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona, and a 20-mile route between a Shanghai port and warehouses. The startup plans to order 60 to 100 trucks to be retrofitted as test mules. The order will be split between China's Shaanxi Heavy Duty Motor Co. and a U.S. manufacturer. 

The trucks will be equipped with 10 cameras, three radar units, and a control system to enable autonomous driving. TuSimple expects the fleet to accumulate a combined 3 million miles per year.

TuSimple ultimately plans to become a full-fledged trucking company, CEO Chen Mo told Bloomberg. He said self-driving trucks could cut costs by 40 percent in the U.S. and 25 percent in China. TuSimple has no interest in developing autonomous passenger cars, Chen said, noting that cars face more complex driving situations than commercial trucks. Chen also believes the cost savings aren't as significant.

In June, TuSimple completed a 200-mile test run between San Diego and Yuma, Arizona, with a prototype truck. The company has also raised $27.5 million, including a contribution from Nvidia, which also supplied the graphics-processing unit for the prototype. TuSimple wants to raise another $150 million before seeking an initial public offering.

TuSimple's chief competition is Uber's autonomous trucking division, formerly known as Otto. But Waymo has also expressed interest in self-driving trucks, and recent reports indicate Tesla's upcoming electric semi truck will have some form of autonomous driving capability. It seems companies are no longer content with developing autonomous cars alone.