Freight movement in the U.S. is expected to rise from 17.4 billion tons in 2015 to 25.5 billion tons in 2045, according to a report by the consulting firm Deloitte. Some AV developers are already taking advantage of that growth.
“We launched our freight network last July,” says Jason Wallace, marketing director for AV trucking startup TuSimple. “Since then, we’ve opened a wholly owned freight terminal in Alliance, Texas, and mapped out roads all the way from Phoenix to Orlando.”
TuSimple’s version of the next-generation truck will be built by partner Navistar. Its fleet of 52 trucks operate as Level 4 vehicles with drivers, but the freight network, Wallace says, helps demonstrate the technology to customers while earning revenue for the company.
“Most recently, the hot topic among new customers has been food distribution,” he says. “Through the pandemic, there was a lot of demand for food banks and a real need to distribute food more efficiently. We did a run from Nogales, Arizona, to Oklahoma City using one of our trucks with a team of two drivers and shaved 10 hours off of the trip.”
To pave the way for its trucks, TuSimple uses a fleet of SUVs equipped with cameras and sensors to map out the highways within the network, then creates a digital model of the environment for the trucks. As trucks are deployed, Wallace says, the data is harvested via AWS devices such as Snowball Edge, a storage device used to transfer the data to the cloud. In the physical world, the trucks keep the maps updated and fresh, scanning, rescanning, and updating changes.
TuSimple has large servers of its own. But as with Plus, its large data needs eventually called for the scale of AWS’ services. The accessibility of data also makes it possible to review recorded drives and differentiate between human and machine driving.
“What you’re looking for is harsh braking or cornering,” Wallace says, something that is much more common with a human. The autonomous system will keep the vehicle centered to within about 5 centimeters of the middle of the lane and manages the throttle much more precisely than a human. It can yield up to 10 percent better fuel economy, Wallace says.
The data management of trucks in the field also allows operators to better track their fleets.
For now, TuSimple is still at Level 4, but Wallace says “long term, the goal is to remove the driver, and we’ll be demonstrating operations without a driver next year.”