Autonomous semi-trucks have been driving along I-10 for months and no one noticed

By: - August 16, 2019 2:24 pm

A screenshot of the TuSimple website.

Tech startup TuSimple has been carrying mail in autonomous semi-trucks between Phoenix and Tucson for “several weeks” with little fanfare.

Since May the autonomous trucks have been making the 115 mile journey on Interstate 10. On Aug. 15, UPS’s venture capital arm announced it was making an investment in the company, tech news website Gizmodo reported yesterday. 

TuSimple and UPS are testing what is called “Level 4” autonomous technology, meaning that the truck’s on-board computer is in control during the entire drive. 

However, current federal laws require that people are in the truck at all times, so the trucks have a driver and an engineer in them while on Arizona roads. 

TuSimple works alongside the “Arizona Department of Transportation and Arizona Department of Public Safety, as well as the sheriff’s department, city police and Border Patrol,” said company spokeswoman Stacy Morris. 

“They have all been to the TuSimple facility location in Tucson, and we work closely with them to keep them updated on TuSimple testing and development,” Morris added.

“ADOT, along with DPS, is in regular contact with companies testing autonomous vehicle technology in Arizona,” the Arizona Department of Transportation said in a statement. “This test by TuSimple, which has two people, including a safety driver in its trucks, is in compliance with state and federal regulations, as well as the governor’s executive orders on autonomous vehicle testing.” 

The trucks will be expanding their routes outside of Tucson and Phoenix soon, though: UPS and TuSimple announced that they will begin delivering mail from Phoenix to Dallas, a 1,000-mile trip. 

In a press release, UPS and TuSimple claim that the move could reduce costs by 30 percent, though they did not provide information on how those cost savings would occur. 

TuSimple, which is based in San Diego, began its partnership with UPS in May, but has been testing autonomous trucks in Arizona for longer. 

A video posted to TuSimple’s YouTube page shows one of its trucks driving in heavy rain in Tucson in October 2018. 

“TuSimple has been testing its hub-to-hub SAE L4 self-driving truck fleet in Arizona days and nights for months,” the description of the video reads. “This video features one of their daily runs in heavy rain during October 2018, with zero disengagements.” 

Since 2015, self-driving car companies have flocked to the state after Gov. Doug Ducey welcomed Waymo, Google’s self-driving car concept, and Uber into the state with open arms

In 2015, Ducey signed an executive order that allows for testing of self-driving cars in Arizona that also created a committee to advise state agencies on “how best to advance the testing operation of self-driving vehicles on public roads.” 

But the first meeting of the Arizona Self-Driving Vehicle Oversight Committee in 2016 has been its only meeting. 

Currently the state allows self-driving vehicles to operate without being registered in the state. 

Ever since 2015, cities in the East Valley have been grappling with the explosion of tech companies testing driverless technology, and Arizona was the site of the first death related to an autonomous vehicle

TuSimple cofounder Xiaodi Hou told Forbes earlier this year that the company plans to start making completely driverless runs by early 2020. 

Currently, TuSimple is valued at $1.1 billion

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.