The Postal Service is experimenting with self-driving long-haul semi trucks to transport mail between distribution centers. The U.S. Postal Service is testing its first long-haul self-driving delivery truck in a two-week pilot program that will use an autonomous tractor-trailer to deliver mail between distribution centers in Phoenix and Dallas. TuSimple, a self-driving truck company, is providing the vehicle and will have a safety engineer and driver in the cab to monitor its performance and take control if there are any issues, the company said in announcing the test Tuesday. The Postal Service has been exploring the idea for some time, recently soliciting bids to put semi-autonomous mail trucks on the road in a few years that allow a human to sort the mail while being autonomously driven along the route. "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," said Postal Service spokeswoman Kim Frum.
San Diego-based startup TuSimple said its self-driving trucks will begin hauling mail between USPS facilities in Phoenix and Dallas to see how the nascent technology might improve delivery times and costs. A safety driver will sit behind the wheel to intervene if necessary and an engineer will ride in the passenger seat. If successful, it would mark an achievement for the autonomous driving industry and a possible solution to the driver shortage and regulatory constraints faced by freight haulers across the country. The pilot program involves five round trips, each totaling more than 2,100 miles (3,380 km) or around 45 hours of driving. It is unclear whether self-driving mail delivery will continue after the two-week pilot.
A mail carrier for the United States Postal Service makes deliveries at a Florida apartment complex in June 2018. The USPS has partnered with TuSimple to launch a multi-state driverless semi-truck test program on Tuesday. It doesn't involve home deliveries. A mail carrier for the United States Postal Service makes deliveries at a Florida apartment complex in June 2018. The USPS has partnered with TuSimple to launch a multi-state driverless semi-truck test program on Tuesday.
Embark co-founders Alex Rodrigues, left, and Brendon Moak with their fleet of autonomous semi-trucks at the startup's operations center in Ontario, California. Embark Trucks, a robotic tech upstart led by two young Canadian computer scientists, hired a key member of Tesla's Autopilot team to help its self-driving trucks better see and understand their surroundings and highway conditions. Zeljko Popovic, an engineer with a background in robotics who joined Tesla over six years ago and created and ran the Perception Team for Autopilot, is now Perception Lead for San Francisco-based Embark, the company said. He'll report to Embark CTO Brandon Moak and focus on boosting the accuracy and distance at which the cameras, radar and laser lidar sensors on its semi-trucks detect other vehicles, as well as leading mapping, localization and machine learning efforts. "Self-driving perception systems need huge amounts of data to train their machine learning algorithms, which means gathering high-quality data is key for Embark's perception team," said CEO Alex Rodrigues.