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Self-driving trucks hit the road at scale with TuSimple's new freight network

The Autonomous Freight Network will receive support from UPS, Penske and US Xpress as TuSimple works to bring self-driving semis to market.

TuSimple autonomous semi truck
Beep beep, TuSimple making moves.

The US will be home to a world-first in the Autonomous Freight Network, designed to bring self-driving semi trucks to market in a safe manner. San Diego-based startup TuSimple is its creator, and it's brought some heavy hitters onboard to see the project through.

TuSimple said Wednesday that UPS, Penske and US Xpress will each work with the startup to bring the project to life over three phases.  Penske Truck Leasing will handle preventative maintenance and help TuSimple scale its fleet operation, while US Xpress provides the startup with more opportunities to collect data as it runs TuSimple's Level 4 autonomous system.

UPS has been a longtime partner of TuSimple and actually made a minority investment in the startup last year. UPS has given TuSimple goods to transport with its prototype autonomous system to help understand how long a transport route takes and to see how many times the self-driving system disengages. There's always been a human backup driver onboard for these tests, too.

With all three partners, TuSimple thinks it will have the perfect recipe to have truly autonomous semi trucks ready in 2024. But first, everything starts with phase 1.

TuSimple Autonomous Freight Network

Today, the southwest. Tomorrow, the south entirely, and then, the nation!


In this phase, TuSimple's Autonomous Freight Network will begin service between the cities of Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. It begins this year and runs into 2021. Phase 2 kicks off in 2022 and runs until 2023 when TuSimple plans to expand its autonomous service coast-to-coast with a Los Angeles-to-Jacksonville route. Come 2024, the plan is to roll out phase 3 and provide autonomous shipping services nationwide.

Basically, the freight network is a building block to accelerate development through the first half of this decade. And it sounds like the company has some pretty advanced technology with such an accelerated timeline. Then again, semi trucks make the majority of their journeys on highways, not through dense and difficult city streets.

The Autonomous Freight Network will work with fully mapped routes to each of the destinations, which is how TuSimple's technology works today. However, the company said as it continues to map more areas for customers, it'll be able to deliver directly to distribution centers and not just one of its central hubs located nearby. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to carry goods directly to customers.

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