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Self-Driving Freight Deliveries to Begin in Arizona This Spring

TuSimple has run seven semi-truck trips between Tucson and Phoenix without a driver since December and this spring it will expand those deliveries by partnering with Union Pacific to autonomously transport actual freight.

(TNS) — Since late December, San Diego's autonomous driving outfit TuSimple has run seven semi-truck trips between Tucson and Phoenix, Ariz., without a driver in the vehicle.

These driver-out demonstrations aim to prove that TuSimple's artificial intelligence autonomous driving technology works repeatedly along a real freight hauling route.

And this spring, the recently public company hopes to add another layer of proof by delivering actual freight for Union Pacific — one of the nation's largest railroad shippers.

While not groundbreaking by itself, the deal with Union Pacific announced Wednesday aims to provide additional evidence that TuSimple's technology can add value to the freight hauling industry in real-world conditions.

"It is really about automating the world's first autonomous freight lane — the first one where we have repeated operations on a driver-out basis going from one real freight location to another," said Chief Financial Officer Pat Dillon.

Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed, nor were other details such as how many driver- out freight hauling trips per week are expected.

TuSimple will own and operate the 53-foot big rig making the roughly 80-mile trip between the Tucson railyard and a distribution site near Phoenix using open, public roads without a human in the vehicle.

"This groundbreaking autonomous driving technology and our partnership provide us a significant opportunity to scale the technology in our network, proactively reducing global supply chain congestion," said Kenny Rocker, executive vice president of marketing and sales at Union Pacific, in a statement.

In the self-driving technology world, there are five levels of autonomy. At Level 4, no human is required to be in the vehicle. But it can only operate along predefined, mapped routes — which TuSimple has done between Tucson and Phoenix.

In its seven driver-out runs to date, TuSimple has deployed a car that trails the and monitors the truck. It also has a survey vehicle six or so miles ahead. Law enforcement has joined in unmarked vehicles.

The trips have taken place in dense early evening traffic and included there-and-back operations on the same night. TuSimple plans to continue proving out its technology by including daytime runs and new routes.

The company expects its operations to be commercially viable on a large scale by the end of 2023, and it has targeted the Texas triangle between Houston, Dallas and San Antonio as one of several areas for expansion.

The company's shares ended trading Wednesday at $17.88 on the Nasdaq exchange. The stock is down 55 percent since its initial public stock offering in April 2021.

©2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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