USPS Tests Autonomous Semi-Trailers for Long-Haul Mail Logistics

The two-week pilot with program with TuSimple – staged on one of the country’s significant trucking corridors – may be a decisive case study for the operational efficiency of autonomous logistics.

(Image courtesy: TuSimple, Inc.)

The United States Postal Service  (USPS) has partnered with San Diego-based TuSimple, Inc.  to test the feasibility of using self-driving trucks to haul mail-laden USPS trailers across long distances. TuSimple, which specializes in autonomous trucks, will perform five round trips between USPS distribution centers in Phoenix and Dallas over the course of a two-week pilot program. USPS will use the program to assess factors like fuel cost reduction, operational safety, and fleet utilization rates.

The Class-8 vehicles – or semi-trailer trucks – will cover more than 1,000 miles over the course of the five 22-hour trips, travelling along the I-10, 1-20, and I-30 interstate corridors through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Each truck will have a safety engineer on board at all times to monitor vehicle performance and to ensure public safety.

Long-haul routes with short turnaround times are normally accomplished with two-member driving teams. Companies often face recruitment challenges when hiring long haul teams due to overnight driving requirements, the need to share close quarters with another person, and a significant shortage of qualified truck drivers – with an estimated workforce deficit of 175,000 drivers by 2024 according to the American Trucking Association (ATA).

With driverless long-haul operations, companies like TuSimple could potentially free human drivers to focus on shorter, more dynamic, and closer-to-home routes. The company’s trucks are the first in the industry to be able to navigate autonomously from depot to depot, whereas most other self-driving trucks are limited to highway-only autonomous operation.

William Kucinski  is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

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