TuSimple's autonomous technology uses lidar and radar, and high-definition, long-range cameras,...

TuSimple's autonomous technology uses lidar and radar, and high-definition, long-range cameras, along with deep learning.

Photo: TuSimple

Autonomous trucking technology company TuSimple has teamed up with UPS, Penske Truck Leasing, U.S. Xpress, and McLane to launch the Autonomous Freight Network, which it says will lay the groundwork for self-driving autonomous trucks to become commercially available by 2024.

The Autonomous Freight Network consists of autonomous trucks, digital mapped routes, strategically placed terminals, and TuSimple Connect, a proprietary autonomous operations monitoring system.

The Autonomous Freight Network will roll out in three phases:

  • Phase I (2020-21) will offer service between the cities of Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.
  • Phase II (2022-23) will expand AFN service from Los Angeles to Jacksonville and connect the East Coast with the West Coast.
  • Phase III (2023-24) will expand driverless operations nationwide, adding major shipping routes throughout the lower 48 states – allowing customers to use their own TuSimple-equipped autonomous trucks on the AFN by 2024.

A key part of the rollout is Chattanooga-based truckload fleet U.S. Xpress. With its 7,000 trucks operating across the country, it will provide additional lanes to help TuSimple perfect its level-four autonomous technology. With access to more Lanes, TuSimple can advance its undersanding of and refine its responses on the road. The two companies have been working together for the last two years to help define carriers’ needs for level four trucks, said U.S. Xpress President and CEO Eric Fuller. “We are interested in understanding how TuSimple technology can make our fleet safer and more fuel-efficient, as well as how it can improve the overall delivery experience for our professional drivers and customers.”

TuSimple already operates autonomously on seven routes between Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, and Dallas. This fall, TuSimple will open a new shipping terminal in Dallas, allowing the self-driving truck company to service customers in the “Texas triangle.” The terminals are designed to give mid-sized customers access to the advantages of autonomous trucking. For high-volume customers, TuSimple will continue to map routes and deliver directly to their distribution centers.

With the Autonomous Freight Network, the company is also launching TuSimple Connect, an autonomous operations monitoring system to ensure safe autonomous operations and allow customers to track their freight in real-time.

Penske Truck Leasing, which operates more than 750 service facilities throughout North America, will help TuSimple to scale its fleet operations nationwide. Penske will also provide preventive maintenance and over-the-road service to TuSimple's L4 autonomous trucks to help keep them running day and night.

A new partnership with U.S. Xpress will build on what TuSimple is already learning from UPS and...

A new partnership with U.S. Xpress will build on what TuSimple is already learning from UPS and McLane as it perfects its autonomous truck technology.

Photo: TuSimple

McLane, a Berkshire Hathaway company, is one of the largest supply chain services leaders in the United States. In a YouTube video, Danny Austin, vice president of operations for McLane Food Service, explained that what the company is looking for TuSimple to help with is relieving some capacity constraints it has across the country. "It's very important that we are working with the McLane culture to understand the technology, before the the technology arrives at our doorstep and we don't understand it."

Earlier this year, TuSImple announced it had expanded its existing autonomous truck service for UPS to 20 trips per week. Last year, UPS made a minority investment in the company.

The AFN integrates with existing logistics networks and transportation management systems to enable efficient, low-cost long-haul autonomous freight operations. Additionally, TuSimple technology allows autonomous trucks to be 10% more fuel-efficient than manually driven trucks, and in the future operate continuously without hours of service limitations.

“Our ultimate goal is to have a nationwide transportation network consisting of mapped routes connecting hundreds of terminals to enable efficient, low-cost long-haul autonomous freight operations,” said Cheng Lu, President, TuSimple. “By launching the AFN with our strategic partners, we will be able to quickly scale operations and expand autonomous shipping lanes to provide users access to autonomous capacity anywhere and 24/7 on-demand.”

The company plans to replicate the strategy in Europe and Asia after the AFN rolls out nationwide.

Watch for more details to come based on interviews with Penske and U.S. Xpress.

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