Postal Service tests mail shipments on self-driving trucks

United States Postal Service testing TuSimple's autonomous trucks

The US Postal Service is working with a self-driving truck company to test autonomous mail deliveries along a key route in the Southwest.

A truck driver and safety engineer will remain on board the truck during the two week trial, TuSimple says. Self-driving trucks could save hundreds of millions by eliminating human drivers and the hours-of-service rules that keep them from driving round the clock. "We are actually trying to minimize marking", Price said, "because we find that people tend to either get distracted in amazement or distracted in the devious way and try to mess with us". The company will swap out its drivers at stopping points to comply with hours-of-service limits. While self-driving mail trucks are still years-if not decades-away, autonomous long-haul trucking might be realistic much sooner.

This type of time-critical, longhaul route that typically requires team drivers is particularly well-suited to automation, said Chuck Price, chief product officer at TuSimple. "It's a sweet spot for autonomy".

TuSimple's self-driving system relies primarily on cameras, along with radar and lidar sensors, to track the vehicle's environment.

Level 4 vehicles are "designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip" according to the D.O.T. "The work with TuSimple is our first initiative in autonomous long-haul transportation", Frum said.

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

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In February, USPS issued a request for information on autonomous-vehicle technology for its own mail-delivery vehicles.

The USPS hasn't committed to using autonomous semis on a full-time basis, but the technology could prove to be a time - and money saver - for the delivery service.

Success of the pilot program with TuSimple could also be a game changer for the Post Office.

The company operates its US fleet of self-driving trucks out of Tucson, Ariz., and is in the process of expanding that fleet to 50 vehicles.

TuSimple has raised $178 million in funding since its founding in 2015.

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