That big-rig truck heeding the speed limit and traffic rules between Tucson and metro Phoenix might not have had a human driver operating it at all.
TuSimple Holdings, a public corporation headquartered in San Diego, said it successfully completed an 80-mile run along highways and surface streets, including Interstate 10, from Tucson to a location in the Phoenix area with nobody in the cab.
The company, which has tested autonomous trucks at a facility in Tucson, said the Dec. 22 trial run, conducted at night, was the first involving no human driver in a large commercial vehicle that interacted naturally with motorists on open public roads. Waymo and other companies also have tested self-driving trucks.
No driver, but lots of eyes on road
TuSimple called the Arizona test the “world’s first fully autonomous semi-truck run on open public roads without a human in the vehicle and without human intervention.”
However, precautions included a survey vehicle deployed more than five miles ahead to look for hazards or other driving anomalies, another vehicle trailing behind and law-enforcement vehicles following at around half a mile back.
The one-hour, 20-minute trial run started at a railyard in Tucson and ended in an undisclosed distribution center in the Phoenix area. Along the way, the company’s Autonomous Driving System navigated surface streets, traffic signals, on-ramps and offramps, made lane changes and dealt with emergency vehicles in open traffic. The test was conducted without remote control or traffic intervention.
More trials ahead but location unclear
TuSimple said its testing program will continue in 2022 but didn’t announce any specific upcoming trials on Arizona roads.
“This test reinforces what we believe is our unique position at the forefront of autonomous trucking, delivering advanced driving technology at commercial scale,” said Cheng Lu, TuSimple’s president and CEO, in a statement. He said the company is “laser-focused on putting our technology through a rigorous test on open public roads under real-world conditions.”
TuSimple has a testing and demonstration hub in Tucson along with operations in Texas, Europe and China. The company claims its artificial intelligence software allows trucks to “see” 1,000 meters away, operate nearly continuously and achieve fuel savings of 10% or more compared to those driven manually. The vehicles also adhere to safe driving practices such as making a three-second stop at stop signs.
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