U.S. truck maker Navistar is partnering with TuSimple, a leading autonomous vehicle startup, to build a self-driving semitrailer that can be operated on highways and local roads without a human driver. As part of the deal, Navistar acquired a minority stake in TuSimple – although neither company would disclose the amount of Navistar's investment.
TuSimple recently unveiled its plans to build a coast-to-coast freight transportation business with a fleet of autonomous Class 8 tractor units with cameras and LIDAR. Now the company has a manufacturing partner to help him make his dream of robotic tractor units go nationwide.
"This is of course an important key component to bring autonomy to the market," said Cheng Lu, President of TuSimple The edge.
TuSimple was founded in 2015 and currently uses Navistar trucks equipped with the startup's self-driving technology, which the world sees mostly through 20 cameras and two LIDAR laser sensors. Instead of continuing to retrofit existing Navistar trucks, Lu says TuSimple wants to build a driverless truck from scratch to ensure that its sensors and self-driving software can withstand the tough conditions of the long-haul truck.
"It's very worn out," said Lu. “The roads are bumpy. It works 24 hours a day. And that means that every component of the truck has to last as long as possible. "
TuSimple is already supported by UPS, Nvidia and Chinese technology company Sinaand it has headquarters in San Diego and Beijing. But extensions and vehicle construction cost money – a lot of money. Last month, TechCrunch reported TuSimple commissioned investment bank Morgan Stanley to raise an additional $ 250 million from investors. Since its inception, the company has raised $ 298 million with a value in excess of $ 1 billion.
TuSimple is aiming for a completely driverless system. His trucks currently include two human operators who monitor driving and take over if necessary. Lu said the company plans to begin production in 2024. From this point on, he expects to be able to remove these backup drivers. The trucks can drive autonomously on motorways and local roads in most weather conditions, but only on "predefined routes," added Lu.
"So you can imagine that these trucks can only drive to a limited extent," he said. "It is not for business-to-business or business-to-home distribution centers."
Lu believes that this fact should alleviate the criticism that autonomous trucks will take jobs away from truck drivers. "The on-demand economy will actually increase the need for these last mile and first mile regional delivery orders," he said. (Previously, TuSimples CTO and co-founder Xiaodi Hou described long-haul truck jobs as those that "affect human glory.")
Autonomous vehicle launches today usually focus on two commercial perspectives: hail and delivery. In fact, most major autonomous vehicle outfits, including Waymo, Cruise, Argo, Nuro, Zoox and others, see hailstorm and delivery as the spearhead for self-driving technology and the best way to meet costs.
Lu said the "road to commercialization" for autonomous trucks will be much faster than for startups working on robotaxis, although equipping a self-driving truck is much more expensive than equipping a self-driving minivan. However, TuSimple's sensor equipment relies more on cameras that are cheap to manufacture than LIDAR, which is incredibly expensive. And Lu says trucks will have a higher occupancy rate than taxis, which means that they can carry cargo at any time to generate revenue for the company.
For its part, Navistar is represented in the field of autonomous vehicles, which can be helpful as the company may be trying to build its own fleet of autonomous vehicles. The company was not always financially stable. Navistar was on the verge of bankruptcy wasted billions of dollars in 2016 on a diesel engine that has not received approval from the Environmental Protections Agency. After the U.S. regulators announced new regulations to reduce CO2 emissions from large trucks and put Navistar under pressure to find a technology partner, Volkswagen decided to buy a minority stake in the company.
Navistar not only manufactures trucks – the Lisle, Illinois-based company also owns International Trucks, which includes a variety of medium-duty trucks, and IC Bus, which manufactures buses and commercial vehicles. Navistar and TuSimple have been working as part of a "technical partnership" for two years.
"Autonomous technology is entering our industry," said Persio Lisboa, President and CEO of Navistar, in a statement, "and will have a profound impact on our customers' businesses."
Autonomous trucking is gradually emerging from the shadow of the much larger robot taxi industry, especially as the COVID 19 pandemic continues to raise doubts about the effectiveness of the common hail. Alphabet & # 39; s Waymo has tested its self-propelled tractor units in Arizona and California and will soon be testing in New Mexico and Texas. The company also works with UPS. Other companies – from established players like Daimler to newcomers like Ike, Enter, and Plus.ai – also work towards a completely driverless truck.
But it was not a smooth transport for everyone. Uber abandoned its plans for self-driving trucks after one of its self-driving cars killed a pedestrian in Arizona, and Starsky Robotics recently closed its business after a failed round of financing.