Self-driving trucks have the chance to transform the logistics industry, and even the federal government is working to determine how well the tech can work in its nascent stages.
The United States Postal Service will begin a two-week pilot program that will put self-driving trucks to work delivering mail. The USPS will use trucks from TuSimple, a startup working to bring the first commercial self-driving semi to market.
The pilot program will consist of five round trips ferrying USPS trailers between Phoenix and Dallas, each leg covering more than 1,000 miles. The trucks will be driven along the I-10, I-20 and I-30 interstates, and the drives will take place at all hours of the day and night. Like many other AV pilot programs, there will be a safety engineer and driver on board to monitor the truck and, if necessary, take command.
TuSimple said that this kind of trip is exactly what self-driving trucks are made for. Each 22-hour leg, with a short turnaround time, would usually require two drivers working in tandem and sharing some awfully close confines. Using AVs would eliminate the need to bathe in another person's musk for nearly a full day at a time, which seems like a benefit.
Of course, the USPS sees benefits beyond smell. "This pilot is just one of many ways the Postal Service is innovating and investing in its future," said a USPS spokesperson in an emailed statement. "We are conducting research and testing as part of our efforts to operate a future class of vehicles which will incorporate new technology to accommodate a diverse mail mix, enhance safety, improve service, reduce emissions, and produce operational savings."
Driver shortages are hitting the logistics industry in a big way. American Trucking Association statistics estimate that the industry could be short some 175,000 drivers by 2024, so it's a good time for self-driving trucks to start making moves.