Here's why a little-known autonomous trucking company is beating Tesla and Waymo in the race for driverless big rigs

Courtesy of TuSimpleTuSimple says it will have the largest self-driving truck fleet in the world by June.
  • TuSimple says it will have the largest self-driving trucking fleet by June, bringing its autonomous truck total to 40.
  • The company, based in San Diego and Beijing, is beating Tesla,Waymo, and other big names in the race for driverless trucks.
  • According to a Morgan Stanley report, the labour savings from implementing driverless trucks would save the industry $US70 billion per year.

The electric Tesla Semi has been, in part, ballyhooed for its semi-autonomous driving options; it can travel in a convoy where one semi leads other vehicles autonomously.

Trucking executives see the autonomous feature as a way to cut labour costs. According to a Morgan Stanley report, the labour savings from implementing driverless trucks would save the industry $US70 billion per year. Productivity would be up 30% because driverless trucks would run 24/7.

But while Tesla is getting significant attention when it comes to driverless technology, it’s losing out in the race for scalable, commercial, autonomous trucking. TuSimple, founded in 2015, announced today that, by June 2019, it will expand its fleet from 12 to 40 autonomous trucks on the road. That will make it the largest self-driving truck solutions company in the world.

Based in Beijing and San Diego, California, TuSimple is operating three to five revenue-generating trucking routes in Arizona. This year, TuSimple will expand to Texas.

Chuck Price, chief product officer at TuSimple, told Business Insider that the company can’t reveal its 12 contracted customers, but they include international Fortune 100 companies and household names.

“We are the only company that is operating multiple revenue-generating routes from depot to depot (warehouse to warehouse),” Price told Business Insider.


Read more:
One of the biggest problems facing self-driving trucks has little to do with the technology

The fact that TuSimple is actually making money is a key differentiator from others in the autonomous trucking race. Tesla Semi is only available for pre-ordering right now; Walmart, UPS, FedEx, and other major companies have already pre-ordered the electric big-rig.

Waymo is hauling freight in autonomous trucks, but only for the data centres of its parent company, Google. It hasn’t announced commercial operations.

Volvo’s latest self-driving truck model, which lacks a cabin, is still under development, and the company doesn’t know when it will be available commercially. (Volvo does have a driverless truck operating in a highly controlled Norwegian mine.)

And Uber shut down its self-driving truck program altogether this summer.

Starsky robotics self driving trucksStarsky RoboticsStarsky Robotics is one competitor in the self-driving truck race.

Other autonomous trucking companies have made headway into commercial operation. Starsky Robotics has been hauling freight with autonomous trucks since April 2017. Embark has also been moving goods with autonomous trucks since 2017.

To be sure, these trucks aren’t fully driverless. Price said each TuSimple truck has a systems engineer and a driver in them at all times when they’re running. Their peers also have one or two people in the cabin still, and Starsky has drivers controlling the trucks from afar.

What sets TuSimple apart

Price said the ultimate goal for TuSimple is full autonomy without any human driving intervention. Other models of driverless trucks suggest that it would be better to bring trucks to huge distribution centres right outside of key highways, then human drivers would take the loads to the final destinations at preexisting distribution centres and warehouses.

“We would rather automate the process end to end,” Price said. “We are demonstrating today in our testing and revenue runs full autonomy on these routes to deliver full depot-to-depot solutions. Our solution integrates seamlessly into existing fleet operations.”

That tactic is a bit more complicated as it requires local driving, which is less straight-forward than highway driving.

Courtesy of TuSimpleEach TuSimple truck has a systems engineer and a driver in them at all times when they’re running.

To convince their Fortune 100 clients to sign on as customers, Price said TuSimple brings potential customers into the truck and onto the open road, rather than create a highly controlled testing environment as his competitors do.

“We’ve been as transparent as we can be with these folks,” Price said.

He continued:

If you go to an autonomous vehicle company and say, ‘I want do a demo,’ most will give you a pretty controlled experience. They will operate on a route that has controlled traffic or no traffic.

We tend to not do that. We take them out in the worst traffic we can find and the worst conditions we can find. We let the demo operate in natural conditions. The truck handles it all and they see that. We’re completely open with them and that’s what gives us confidence.

As for TuSimple’s bigger-name competitors like Tesla or Waymo, Price said TuSimple simply has better technology than others. TuSimple’s trucks have a vision range of up to 1,000 meters and a 360-degree camera.

“We believe we have the most advanced system on the market,” Price said.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.