TuSimple, a California-based autonomous truck start-up, has been mapping routes and plans to haul commercial loads from Arizona to San Antonio, Houston and other Texas cities. “Safety drivers” will initially sit behind the wheel, but TuSimple hopes to take them out of the trucks by the end of 2020. Showing off its technology at the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, TuSimple said that it is planning to spend $1 billion on this project.
TuSimple is already transporting cargo in Arizona. Using a software company, TuSimple has moved beyond writing code to owning and developing hardware. Its autonomous trucks haul three loads a day for 12 major companies, although the trucks currently have a safety driver and technician onboard. TuSimple has plans to grow its fleet from 11 to 50 trucks by June, and by 2020, expects to have tens of millions of miles on its fleet.
In March, TuSimple revealed a proprietary camera capable of seeing 1,000 yards ahead of the truck, even at night. The camera, along with other sensors, allows the computer to plan lane changes and other maneuvers twice as far ahead as a human driver. TuSimple has raised more than $178 million, giving the company a $1 billion valuation. Sina.com, the holding company for a major Chinese social media company, is the largest investor. Other investors include Hong Kong-based Composite Capital and nVidia Corp.
TuSimple plans to provide a self-driving subscription service with trucks that could drive cross-country in two days and save 15 percent in fuel costs. Should TuSimple succeed, its business could up-end traditional trucking companies that are currently struggling with driver shortages, rising fuel prices, and costly accidents. TuSimple’s competitors include Daimler, which said it will invest $573 million to develop autonomous trucks. Uber recently bought self-driving truck company Otto in 2016, but shut the subsidiary down to focus on developing autonomous cars.