The two-week trial will see retrofitted trucks move freight across 1,000 miles with an autopilot taking control on motorways
The US Postal Service has begun a two-week trial of self-driving lorry technology that will see freight hauled across about 1,000 miles of motorways in three southwestern states.
Start-up TuSimple, based in San Diego, said its retrofitted Peterbilt trucks would be used to haul mail between facilities in Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas, in a testing programme that begins on Tuesday.
The run is normally carried out by third-party haulage firms who are required under US law to use two-driver teams to limit drivers’ hours behind the wheel.
TuSimple chief product officer Chuck Price said the run was in the “sweet spot” of where autonomous vehicles could prove valuable, since such long distances are beyond the range of a single human driver.
The vehicles, which use cameras to spot objects and hazards more than half a mile ahead, are to be operated in autonomous mode while on motorways.
The trial is to use relay teams of two people, a human backup driver and an engineer, who are to swap out during refuelling stops.
TuSimple’s technology is, however, used on city streets to carry out deliveries for other customers, and in theory allows for fully automated runs from start to finish.
“We are conducting research and testing as part of our efforts to operate a future class of vehicles which will incorporate new technology to accommodate a diverse mail mix, enhance safety, improve service, reduce emissions, and produce operational savings,” the US Postal Service said.
Last week Swedish autonomous freight start-up Einride launched a trial in the city of Jönköping that it said was the first time a driverless truck with no backup driver had been allowed on a public road.
Its truck, which has no cab, is to haul freight between a warehouse and a terminal, both located in the same industrial area, across a distance of 300 metres, travelling at a maximum of 5 km/h (3.1 mph).
For backup operation the TuSimple truck can be controlled remotely by a human operator.