DriverReach founder and CEO Jeremy Reymer chatted with Jim Mullen, chief administrative and legal officer of TuSimple, about the not-so-distant future of autonomous trucking.
TuSimple is a San Diego-based, global self-driving truck company that is developing a commercial-ready, Level 4 (SAE) fully autonomous driving solution for the trucking industry. In a partnership with Navistar, TuSimple aims to deliver a Level 4, high-autonomy Class 8 truck to the market by 2024.
There are six levels of driving automation (with zero being fully human controlled). Levels 1-3 include a few aspects of driver assistance such as cruise control and guided steering — the caveat being the driver monitors the environment and can take full control at any time.
Level 3-5 vehicles are monitored mostly, if not entirely, by automated systems. Level 4 vehicles in particular are said to involve high automation, in which the vehicle performs all driving tasks under specific circumstances. However, geofencing is required, and human override is still an option.
Mullen detailed the work TuSimple has already undertaken with semi-autonomous trucks. He described the distribution center-to-distribution center hauls it runs between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, for UPS.
“Our trucks launch in ‘autonomous mode’ from the Phoenix distribution center to a sorting center in Tucson. We navigate through town and then get on Interstate 10, and then we get off at Tucson and navigate through town to their facility there. … We do that multiple times every day and have been doing it for two years,” Mullen said, adding that similar linehauls are already being done in New Mexico and Texas, with plans to replicate the process in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina by the end of the year.
Mullens said the hardest job to fill in trucking is the long haul driver, which happens to be TuSimple’s “sweet spot.” But although this may drastically cut down on the amount of drivers needed on the lanes, he said that autonomy can’t persist across all aspects of trucking — for now at least. Mullens believes that the first and final mile will probably see an increase of human driver activity once the autonomous trucks hit the road.
“We believe that come 2024, there are going to be trucks operating on U.S. highways and interstates that will not have a human behind the wheel, but it’s going to be a gradual progression, proliferation of autonomy,” Mullen said. “It’s going to take a number of years before [autonomy] is going to saturate lanes with tens and thousands of autonomous trucks, but I could very well see in the next 10 years, you’re going to see that number of trucks on the road in autonomy [mode] for a good chunk of their route, if not the entirety of their route.”
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