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US autonomous truck trials go up a gear

The US Postal Service is trialling self-driving trucks between Texas and Arizona in partnership with autonomous vehicle specialist TuSimple.

The US has been long been ahead of the game when it comes to putting self-driving trucks on regular roads along with the rest of the traffic. This trial involves trucks that drive themselves but have someone sitting in the driver’s seat anyway, just in case, who presumably drinks endless cups of coffee.

The two week trial will, appropriately enough, mark a milestone in the development of autonomous vehicles if successful. The parameters by which success will be measured aren’t clear but causing a massive pile-up would presumably constitute a failure.

While the eventual utopia of 100% autonomous vehicles is still a long way down the road, this sort of thing could extend the distances a truck can travel in one go without the driver requiring intravenous espresso, with this trial covering 1,000 miles. The technology leans heavily on cameras, apparently, and we’re not aware of any mishaps, but the thought of other drivers unknowingly sharing the road with these trial trucks is still a bit unsettling.

“It is exciting to think that before many people will ride in a robo-taxi, their mail and packages may be carried in a self-driving truck,” said Dr. Xiaodi Hou, Founder, President and Chief Technology Officer, TuSimple. “Performing for the USPS on this pilot in this particular commercial corridor gives us specific use cases to help us validate our system, and expedite the technological development and commercialization progress.”

We got in touch with the USPS and it gave us the following statement: “The United States Postal Service is participating in an autonomous truck pilot program with TuSimple. The truck, with a safety engineer and driver on board, will make five round trips, between postal facilities in Arizona and Texas in late May.

“This pilot is just one of many ways the Postal Service is innovating and investing in its future.  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.”

For many, self-driving vehicles remain a disturbing prospect. While on one level technology can equip them with a greater range of tools and sensory awareness of their immediate environment than human drivers typically have at their disposal, there will always be the matter of judgment and decision-making. As trials of this sort of technology ramp up the first serious accident will be a test of how ready we are to embrace it.

Here’s some further analysis from Subverse.

 


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