Chinese start-up TuSimple, a specialist in autonomous driving technologies applied to trucks transporting goods, released on Wednesday July 1 what it presents as the world’s first autonomous freight network.
This project, called AFN (for Autonomous freight network), is a mapped network of highways and shipping locations in the U.S. and designed for freighter truck operations. Its deployment, planned for 2024, will be carried out with the support of UPS – which invested in 2019 in the American nugget via UPS Ventures – the transporter Xpress, the logistician Penske Truck Leasing and the distribution giant McLane Inc .
Perfecting the autonomous driving technology platform
This AFN is composed of four elements: autonomous trucks, digital mapped routes, freight terminals and a central system that will allow customers to monitor operations and shipments in real time. If for the moment, TuSimple indicates taking charge of the operation of the trucks and the transport of the goods on behalf of its customers, the company, based in Beijing and San Diego, wishes to be able to market its trucks thereafter.
This network aims, beyond processing more volumes, to perfect the technological platform powered by artificial intelligence. “Our ultimate goal is to establish a nationwide transportation network, consisting of mapped routes connecting hundreds of terminals, to enable efficient and inexpensive long-haul autonomous freight operations, says Cheng Lu, the manager of TuSimple. By launching AFN with our strategic partners, we will be able to rapidly expand operations and extend the dedicated lanes for autonomous vehicles to provide users with access to technology, anywhere and 24 hours a day, 7 days on 7“.
A three-step plan to cover 48 American states
This announcement comes a few days after revelations from TechCrunch. According to the American site, TuSimple has mandated the investment bank Morgan Stanley, with the objective of finding new financing in the amount of 250 million dollars. TuSimple, which has raised $ 298 million to date, has 22 contract customers and some 40 autonomous trucks.
TuSimple already carries out freight transport in its autonomous trucks – which carry safety operators on board – on the routes of Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso and Dallas. In fact, the network will be rolled out in three phases, first covering the southwestern United States (Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio) where TuSimple operates. This phase, which will end in 2021, will also include the inauguration of a new terminal in Dallas. The second phase, from 2022, will link the east coast to the west, from Jacksonville to Los Angeles. Finally, the company hopes to cover the entire territory, i.e. 48 states, by 2024.
Note that Texas is a real playground for this activity, with weather, road infrastructure and regulations conducive to experimentation. Starsky Robotics, Embark and the Canadian Kodiak Robotics also run their autonomous trucks there. In addition, Waymo (Alphabet) manufactures and tests its own autonomous trucks.