Autonomous Vehicles

UPS invests in TuSimple, will extend self-driving semi partnership

The company has worked with TuSimple to test autonomous semi trucks since this past May.

TuSimple wants to be a go-to autonomous transport company.

TuSimple

While the auto industry is largely concerned with autonomous cars and how they will impact personal transportation, others want to revolutionize how companies transport goods. That's where TuSimple comes into play. The San Diego-based startup has just got the backing of one of the biggest names in shipping and logistics: UPS.

UPS said Thursday it's made a minority investment in TuSimple. The shipping behemoth has actually worked with TuSimple since May to test self-driving technology in semi trucks; the new investment extends the relationship. Right now, the startup's technology focuses on Class 8 trucks -- trucks that weigh more than 33,000 pounds and often have at least three axles.

Specifically, UPS and TuSimple have worked together to understand what it will take to roll out Level 4 self-driving technology for the UPS fleet of semis. On the SAE scale of autonomy, Level 4 means the human does not need to intervene at any time and the system does not need to hand back controls to a human driver should something go wrong.

So far, tests have taken place on a planned route between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. UPS has provided goods for TuSimple to transport with its prototype autonomous semis, which have a human backup driver and an engineer to monitor the technology at all times. Both companies also keep a close eye on the distance and amount of time the semis travel in full autonomous mode and how long it takes to complete the transport route.

UPS said it's well aware self-driving vehicles and autonomous-driving technology have many roadblocks ahead, but its investment safeguards the company's future. "UPS will be there, as a leader implementing these new technologies in our fleet," the company's Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer Scott Price said in a statement.

As for what's really in it for UPS, it revolves around cost reductions. UPS contracts work to third-party companies during its peak season. TuSimple believes it can reduce transportation costs by 30%. Along with the UPS investment, the United States Postal Service also awarded a contract to the startup to test autonomous mail delivery in Arizona as well.

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