TuSimple, a 30-month-old San Diego-based autonomous truck startup, says it is currently testing three Class 8 Peterbilt trucks in Arizona and has already achieved more than 15,000 Level 4 autonomous test miles using its computer vision system. Level 4 autonomy (on a scale of 1 to 5) doesn't require any action by a human driver and is widely considered the first level of "fully autonomous" driving. Chuck Price, TuSimple vice president of product, says the company's advanced vision system uses up to ten cameras in conjunction with sensors, GPS, three millimeter wave radar units and automated HD mapping to achieve a sensing range of up to 300 meters – three-times the range of standard LiDAR. "[LiDAR] is powerful in that you can get your perception problems solved very quickly … however, the perception quality of LiDAR is lower resolution and the sensor itself is very expensive and doesn't have the range that we can get from our [camera] sensor," he says. "We don't believe any competitors can launch a commercial product with a LiDAR solution.
It's been an eventful week in tech. Amazon announced it would abandon plans to open one of its two HQ2 locations in New York City, and the company also acquired Wi-Fi mesh network startup Eero for an undisclosed sum -- a hint at Amazon's future smart home ambitions. The California Department of Motor Vehicles released reports from companies currently testing self-driving cars -- like Apple, Alphabet's Waymo, and GM Cruise. Google pledged to spend $13 billion on U.S. datacenters and offices in 24 states this year, and driverless truck startup TuSimple raised $95 million at a $1 billion valuation, joining the ranks of Aurora and Nuro as one of the best-funded companies in the autonomous vehicle industry. Nearly lost in the shuffle was President Trump's signing on Monday of an executive order establishing a program -- the American AI Initiative -- that formalizes several of the proposals made last spring during the White House's summit on AI.
China may be gearing up to pull ahead of the U.S. in the race to overhaul road delivery with fleets of self-driving long-haul trucks. A number of companies are developing automation technologies that promise to lower costs, reduce accidents, and improve overall efficiency for the trucking industry by allowing drivers to make longer trips that include periods of rest. In Europe and the U.S., Volvo, Daimler, Uber, and others are testing trucks capable of driving themselves under expert supervision. But several Chinese-based companies are working on automated trucks, and lenient regulations as well as a desire to overhaul the country's chaotic trucking industry may smooth the way for the technology's introduction. This could provide a handy edge in the race to develop a lucrative new way of hauling goods.
While driverless cars get the glory, an AI startup is shifting gears to tackle a road less traveled: automated trucks. Beijing-based TuSimple, is developing a driverless trucking platform, TuSimple CTO Xiaodi Hou explained in a conversation with Michael Copeland in this week's episode of the AI Podcast. A shortage of drivers in Beijing, coupled with the challenge of finding drivers willing to travel on deserted roads in areas with few amenities, only bolsters TuSimple's business case. "If you can show people that this tool can replace your existing tool and can make your tool chain cheaper, more productive, it's much easier to negotiate with people like that," Xiaodi says. The challenge lies in increasing a fully loaded truck's range of vision to over 200 meters or approximately 0.12 miles, using highly customized cameras and lenses, to ensure safety.