US Postal Service will use autonomous big rigs to ship mail in new test

The United States Postal Service (USPS) chose the self-service truck company TuSimple to transport the mail as part of a two-week trial of the startup's stand-alone technology. TuSimple will transport the mail on five round trips between the USPS distribution centers in Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas, which is a stretch of more than 1,000 miles.

The tests will include night driving and the TuSimple trucks will have both a safety driver and an engineer on board. The USPS has also been running a year-long competition to create an all-electric version of its next-generation mail delivery truck.

TuSimple has been expanding its tests slowly over the last year, starting largely on the autonomous test bed that is Arizona, where it had 11 trucks on the road starting in January. While it has not named names, the start-up has taken charge for 12 different companies in their tests to date as a way to offset the cost of developing their self-driving technology. The USPS agreement will mark the company's first tests in Texas.

Founded in 2015, TuSimple has raised $ 178 million to date, with Nvidia and the Chinese technology company Sina as its most notable sponsors. The startup has two central offices, one in San Diego, California, and another in Beijing.

TuSimple uses Navistar trucks equipped with the new company's automatic driving technology, which relies heavily on nine cameras. The trucks each have a pair of LIDAR sensors on board, but like Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk, the start-up focuses on the development of an autonomous vision-based system.

Founder Xiaodi Hou spoke to The Verge on this year's Consumer Electronics Show explaining why he wants to create a fully autonomous large platform on the so-called "Level 2" driver assistance system where the Human is still in control of the vehicle, something that Daimler is currently developing for its own trucks.

"Beating Mobileye will be the holy grail for all Level 2 systems," Hou said, referring to the Israeli-owned Intel firm that helped develop the first version of Tesla's autopilot. "But I'm jumping out of this Level 2 war, I'm starting a new frontier, I just do not want to repeat what they've done."

Developing a self-driven truck that can operate without a human, said Hou, is a "problem that is so hard". However, he said he believes that people are underestimating the progress of autonomous vehicles, especially in specific environments such as trucking, where he believes it is possible to start doing business while development is happening. Hou estimated that making deliveries while testing is done means TuSimple's cost per mile is "probably 10 percent or lower" than robotaxi companies like Waymo. "As long as the eggs in the back are not broken, you should pay me my shipping fee," he said.

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