On May 21, the United States Postal Service (USPS) announced that it is from now on going to ship mail and parcels on self-driving trucks, partnering with self-driving vehicle startup TuSimple.
In the coming months, USPS will run a series of self-driving trucks for 22 hours each (including overnight) along the I-10, I-20, and I-30 highways through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. TuSimple notes that the freight flow along the I-10 accounts for 60 percent of the U.S.’ total economic activity, and says that the highway is expected to become a central route for its autonomous vehicles in coming months.
“This pilot is just one of many ways the Postal Service is innovating and investing in its future,” USPS said in a press release that cited the possibility of using “a future class of vehicles” to improve service, reduce emissions and save money.
Before the partnership with TuSimple, USPS spent more than $4 billion per year on highway trucking services through outside contractors. According to Bloomberg, those costs have been rising due to a national shortage of drivers, and self-driving trucks could save hundreds of millions by eliminating human drivers and the hours-of services rules that keep them from driving round the clock.
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For now, TuSimple assigns a safety driver behind the wheel for the 1000-mile trip between Phoenix and Dallas, as well as an engineer in the passenger seat monitoring the autonomous systems. After the two-week initial trial, the Postal Service will assess whether to continue working with TuSimple.
Under the fierce competition of autonomous driving, TuSimple is steadily expanding its footprint. Recently, the company completed a $95 million series D round, TuSimple has raised $178 million in funding since its founding in 2015 and was valued at $1 billion. Its trucks have been carrying cargo for customers in Arizona since last year.
Dr. Xiaodi Hou, president, founder, and chief technology officer of TuSimple said: “Before people can start taking unmanned taxis, their mail and packages can be carried in self-driving trucks.”
Featured photo credit to TuSimple