Self-driving truck startup TuSimple has raised new funding that will help the company quickly expand its fleet and accelerate joint-development projects with major automakers and suppliers.
The company said Wednesday it had received $95 million in a Series D round completed in December that brings its total funding to date to $178 million.
With human safety drivers behind the wheel, TuSimple's trucks are already on public roads in Arizona making deliveries. The company has 12 contracted customers and is making three to five delivery trips per day from an operations center in Tucson. It says it will use the new funding to expand its fleet to more than 50 trucks by June and commence testing in Texas. It also has operations in China.
The company is in a brewing competition with others in the nascent self-driving truck field to upend a trucking industry worth an estimated $800 billion per year to the U.S. economy. Experts widely see trucking as a first application of autonomous technology, both for technical and market reasons.
Investors see TuSimple as one of the front-runners in that race.
"TuSimple consistently reaches their milestones on and ahead of schedule, and we are confident that they are poised to bring the first commercial self-driving trucks to market," said Colin Xie, vice general manager of the investment department at Sina Corp., which led TuSimple's latest funding round.
Competitors include the likes of Waymo, which runs self-driving truck testing from a hub in Atlanta; Embark, which CNBC reported last month is hauling goods for Amazon; and startups such as Starsky Robotics and Ike, the latter of which was co-founded by former employees of Uber's shuttered self-driving truck program.
Rather than focus solely on highway driving, TuSimple says its self-driving system can control trucks from depot to depot, including handling all operations on surface streets and through intersections. Last month at CES, TuSimple announced a partnership with Cummins Inc. that focused on powertrain integration.
While TuSimple incorporates cameras, radar and lidar into its sensing technology, its executives say they've made advances with camera technology that allow their trucks to detect objects as far away as 1,000 meters. At that distance, their systems still have time to plan the path ahead safely at highway speeds.
"We're watching objects, and classifying them, and understanding where they are in their lanes, watching them over time," said Chuck Price, vice president of product at TuSimple. "If you're going 65 miles an hour, you have 35 seconds to decide what to do. You can go out and have a cigarette, come back and still have enough time to make a decision."