UPS partners with TuSimple to test self-driving semi-trucks

UPS has been carrying truckloads of goods in self-driving semi-trucks since May. The vehicles are driving through Arizona routes between Phoenix and Tucson as an ongoing test.

The shipping giant announced the partnership with TuSimple, an autonomous driving company, on Thursday, August 15. UPS Ventures is also taking a minority stake in the company.

The trucks created by TuSimple are Level 4 autonomous, which means that a computer is in complete control of driving with no required manual controls. While the trucks have been operating on the road, a driver and an engineer are still on board to monitor the system, as is required by law. 

“While fully autonomous, driverless vehicles still have development and regulatory work ahead, we are excited by the advances in braking and other technologies that companies like TuSimple are mastering. All of these technologies offer significant safety and other benefits that will be realized long before the full vision of autonomous vehicles is brought to fruition — and UPS will be there, as a leader implementing these new technologies in our fleet,” UPS chief strategy and transformation officer Scott Price said in the press release.  

The vehicles have been hauling goods from its supply chain and freight business segment, running roughly five routes a day, a UPS spokesperson told Digital Trends. The spokesperson told Digital Trends that it’s too early in the tests to determine any expansion, but that they do expect to expand to other routes.

TuSimple’s autonomous technology allows the use of self-driving, Class 8 tractor-trailers that exceed 33,000 pounds with three or more axles. The company’s mission is to increase safety on the road, decrease transportation costs, and reduce carbon emissions that diesel-fueled semi-trucks give off. 

UPS has been testing new ways of delivery, even toying with the idea of drone delivery, which they call UPS Flight Forward. As with autonomous driving, there are still strict regulations on full-fledged drone delivery services, but UPS launched a trial service in March to deliver medical samples between health care facilities in Raleigh, North Carolina. UPS has applied for Federal  Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 135 air carrier certification which would allow drones at night, over people, and beyond the operator’s line of sight, but has yet to be approved. 

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