Self-Driving Truck Completes Successful Run in Arizona

Self-Driving Truck Completes Successful Run in Arizona
A self-driving truck developed by TuSimple, like this one, was used in an 80-mile test drive of the automated technology in Arizona on Dec. 22, 2021. (Courtesy of TuSimple)
Allan Stein

A long-distance test of a driverless big-rig truck cab in Arizona went without a hitch on Dec. 22, completing the world’s first live demonstration of a fully autonomous long-haul vehicle on open roads.

TuSimple Holdings announced on Dec. 29 that the specially updated Class 8 semi-truck successfully made the 80-mile test drive without a human in the vehicle.

“By achieving this momentous technical milestone, we demonstrated the advanced capabilities of TuSimple’s autonomous driving system and the commercial maturity of our testing process, prioritizing safety and collaboration every step of the way,” said Cheng Lu, president and CEO of TuSimple, a San Diego-based autonomous driving technology company.

Lu said the test “reinforces what we believe is our unique position at the forefront of autonomous trucking, delivering advanced driving technology at commercial scale.

“This year [2021], we were laser-focused on putting our technology through a rigorous test on open public roads under real-world conditions, and to see all our hard work and dedication come together is extremely rewarding.”

The nearly two-hour run took place at night starting from a large railroad yard in Tucson, Arizona, and covered more than 80 miles on public roads and major highways, including I-40, to a high-volume distribution center in the Phoenix metro area.

“Along the journey, TuSimple’s Autonomous Driving System (ADS) successfully navigated surface streets, traffic signals, on-ramps, off-ramps, emergency lane vehicles, and highway lane changes in open traffic, while naturally interacting with other motorists,” TuSimple said.

The test drive was done in close collaboration with the Arizona Department of Transportation (AZDOT) and local law enforcement to ensure public safety.

During the test run, a survey truck operated five to six miles ahead of the automated semi cab to look for unusual conditions that could cause a safety hazard. A “chase van” team followed the truck to make sure no glitches occurred with the automated system.

Unmarked law enforcement vehicles also monitored the driverless test from start to finish.

“Autonomous vehicles is a worldwide emerging technology, with much of the testing and commercial deployment taking place in Arizona,” according to the AZDOT.

At least nine companies have submitted applications to test autonomous vehicles in Arizona, the department stated.

TuSimple is a member company of the Arizona Trucking Association.

Association president Anthony Bradley said the company’s successful test drive of an autonomous long-haul truck in Arizona is a step forward for driverless technology.

“From a safety perspective, some of the automatic technology is very encouraging [and shows] great promise. It will likely improve safety for people on the road,” Bradley told The Epoch Times.

However, Bradley doesn’t see the technology making humans obsolete any time soon.

“What we envision is an environment where the driver is not in the vehicle,” Bradley said although in the beginning stages, “there will be an operator.”

“There is a lot more a driver does to secure the security of the safety of that [commercial] load.” The automated technology “will allow more efficient use of time” by the human operator, he said.

Bradley said driverless technology is similar to an automatic pilot in a commercial airliner, where pilots can switch from manual operation to automatic so they can perform other duties.

It remains an open question whether the new automation will help resolve the current nationwide shortage of truck drivers—now estimated at more than 80,000 in 2021—since the vehicle still needs a live operator for other tasks.

“Automated vehicles promise to make transportation safer, cheaper, and faster,” the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) says on its website. “They spark the opportunity to reduce road congestion and fuel consumption and ultimately increase productivity.”

The authority also believes automated vehicles create economic opportunity in a “passenger economy” that represents a $7 trillion global market by 2050, noting that “Arizona is the proving ground for this transformative innovation.”

In 2015, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed an executive order promoting the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles.

Other companies have also been setting the pace for the development of self-driving vehicles using Arizona as a proving ground.

Waymo is another technology company test driving fully autonomous vehicles in Arizona.

The U.S.-based company Plus is also coming out with an automated driving system for heavy trucks with a planned delivery of products in 2022.

Agricultural vehicle giant Deere & Co. rolled out a 40,000-pound autonomous tractor project at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.