Autonomous truck startup TuSimple has now teamed up with UPS and the U.S. Postal Service, but the company’s chief product officer told Cheddar Tuesday that the company isn’t aiming to outsource truck driving jobs to self-driving tech.
"It’s not our goal to put drivers out of business. There is a severe driver shortage in the U.S. This year alone, we’re short about 50,000 drivers. Within the next few years, we’ll see that grow to over 200,000 missing drivers," said chief product officer Chuck Price.
"This technology is a solution to meeting the demand of trucking, which moves over 75 percent of the U.S.’s goods."
On Thursday, the venture capital arm of delivery giant UPS announced that it had acquired a minority stake in the San Diego-based autonomous trucking startup. UPS also revealed that the two companies have been testing self-driving trailers in Arizona for several months.
Trucks involved in the testing, which began in May, have been shuttling along a route between Tucson and Phoenix. Arizona policymakers have been uniquely — and at times, controversially — welcoming to autonomous vehicles, making the state a domestic hub for testing self-driving technology.
The announcement of the UPS partnership with TuSimple follows a two-week pilot earlier this summer conducted by the U.S. Postal Service and the startup, though that trial focused on a longer route between Phoenix and Dallas.
Price said storms passing through Texas during the testing on Memorial Day weekend demonstrated that the company’s technology can function in harsh weather. The company shared video of one of its trucks navigating a rain storm back in October.
"We were driving right on the edge of those watch zones, with severe crosswinds, heavy rains, and operating day and night," he said. "So we have experienced quite strong conditions already with our systems." Still, he notes that TuSimple’s trucks have yet to be tested for resistance to hail.
Of course, TuSimple isn’t alone in its quest to create a fleet of self-driving trucks. The German auto giant Daimler has invested close to $600 million in the trucking technology and first tested its self-driving abilities in the U.S. back in 2015.
The California-based startup Udelv is also working on (comparatively smaller) self-driving delivery vans.