Autonomous trucking software developer TuSimple will use some of Ryder System Inc.’s more than 500 maintenance terminals to stretch its supervised driverless freight network from Arizona to Florida by the end of the year.

The addition of selected Ryder facilities in addition to TuSimple’s own terminals in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, and Dallas expedites the startup’s eastward expansion. The first Ryder facilities to expand the TuSimple Autonomous Freight Network are expected to be in the U.S. Southeast.

“The reason why we’re able to work with someone like Ryder is because our technology can also operate on surface streets,” TuSimple CEO Cheng Lu told FreightWaves. “It allows us to go into a Ryder terminal autonomously, and we’re able to leverage this existing real estate.”

Competitors, he said, are forced to build their own transfer hubs near highways. “You’re making shippers go to you, so there’s additional drayage costs,” Cheng said.

Leveraging partner expertise

TuSimple (NASDAQ: TSP) was the first of the autonomous trucking startups to go public via a $1.1 billion initial public offering in April. It is developing a fully integrated autonomous driving system for the Navistar International LT targeted for 2024. TuSimple has about 7,000 nonbinding reservations from fleets, including U.S. Xpress and Werner Enterprises.

“We’re very excited about Ryder (NYSE: R) because our goal is to think about how to accelerate adoption of [autonomy],” Cheng said. “We want the network to be in place, the maintenance, the calibration requirements of autonomous trucks, the data offloading. All these things require physical real estate and Ryder has a perfect footprint to do that.”

Once the terminals are chosen, TuSimple likely will use Ryder technicians to service its trucks.

“We want to leverage the expertise of our partners,” Cheng said. “It’s all about uptime [and] low cost of ownership. You’re going to have to build all those costs into the per-mile cost. Otherwise, it’s not an easy-to-use solution. “We have to make it more efficient than what a carrier is used to today.”

Ryder may field own autonomous fleet

For Ryder, the partnership with TuSimple is just one undertaking in the autonomous space, according to Karen Jones, Ryder executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

“They have done a fantastic job of developing their technology,” she said. “They seem to be pretty far ahead on getting it to market.

“I think this particular partnership is pretty awesome for us, and I think we’re well positioned to help them further what they are trying to accomplish,” Jones told FreightWaves. “We’re really focused at taking a look location by location at what we have in the existing infrastructure and then cherry-picking those that can provide that capability out of the chute.

“Leveraging assets is really important because you think about the kind of time it takes to resurrect infrastructure these days.”

Ryder may possibly field its own autonomous fleet.

“We’re having a number of conversations with autonomous players and have for quite some time actually,” Jones said. “We’ve talked to pretty much everyone out there who has some sort of autonomous technology.”

One of Ryder’s top customers is Navistar, which along with parent TRATON Group are investors in TuSimple. Jones did not rule out an arrangement which could leverage the manufacturer’s efforts at a purpose-built autonomous tractor in exchange for logistics services. 

But Ryder also works with autonomous software startups.

“The startups love to work with Ryder because we have this diversity,” Jones said. “We operate fleets so they can pilot with us to test out their technology and run the capacity on our fleets. They also love us because we have real estate and assets that they can leverage for these hubs.”

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TuSimple: Autonomous freight network 6 months ahead of schedule

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.