The United States Postal Service (USPS) this week awarded a contract to TuSimple, a global self-driving truck company, to perform five test round trips. The two-week pilot program will see TuSimple self-driving trucks haul USPS trailers more than 1,000 miles between the Postal Service’s Phoenix and Dallas distribution centers.
The truck will have a safety engineer and driver on board to monitor vehicle performance and to ensure public safety. The new route is an important milestone as TuSimple scales its autonomous operations beyond Arizona and marks the company’s self-driving debut into Texas.
TuSimple will run a series of its self-driving trucks for 22 hours each, which includes overnight driving, along the I-10, I-20 and I-30 corridors to make the trip through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
“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,” Dr. Xiaodi Hou, president and chief technology officer of TuSimple, said.
Long-haul routes with short turnaround times are well suited for self-driving trucks because they are normally accomplished with driving teams of two. Driving teams are challenging to recruit due to overnight driving requirements, the need to share close quarters with another person and a significant truck driver shortage. According to the American Trucking Association, the driver shortage could reach 175,000 by 2024.
USPS is exploring the feasibility of utilizing autonomous delivery vehicle technology to reduce fuel costs, increase safe truck operation and improve its fleet utilization rate through longer hours of operation. The company said with a 1,000-meter vision range, TuSimple autonomous trucks are safer because they can see more and react faster than humans.
Looking to be more energy efficient and environmentally sound, UPS announced an agreement on Wednesday with Clean Energy Fuels Corp. to purchase 170 million gallon equivalents of renewable natural gas (RNG) through 2026.
UPS said RNG is a key part of its strategy to increase alternative fuel consumption to be 40 percent of total ground fuel purchases by 2025, supporting its efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of its ground fleet 12 percent by 2025.
“Renewable natural gas, produced naturally from bio sources such as landfills and dairy farms, not only turns trash to gas, but it turns it into clean gas,” Mike Casteel, UPS director of fleet procurement, said. “Since RNG is supported by existing national infrastructure used to transport natural gas, it’s a winning solution that will help UPS to reach our ambitious sustainability goals.”
By switching from diesel fuel to RNG, UPS vehicles fueling at 18 company-owned and operated natural gas stations across 12 states will realize a significant reduction in GHG emissions, as much as 1,074,000 metric tons of GHG over the life of the agreement. More than 22 percent of conventional diesel and gasoline fuel previously used by UPS’s ground fleet is now being replaced by alternative fuels, including renewable natural gas and renewable diesel.