UPS announced that it purchased a minority stake in autonomous driving company TuSimple. The delivery company also said that it’s been testing self-driving trucks on a freight route in Arizona since May.
Reuters is reporting that the world’s biggest package delivery company has a venture capital arm called UPS Ventures, and that the announcement underscores how much easier it is to develop self-driving technology for freight trucks rather than passenger cars.
While the technology is still nascent and regulatory standards still need to be built, UPS is nevertheless looking to integrate technology like advanced braking systems, sensor implementation and lane departure awareness into its own current fleet.
“From the regulatory perspective there is a long way to go,” said Todd Lewis, managing partner at UPS Ventures. “But the technology has a ton of implications today.”
The size of the investment was not disclosed. TuSimple said in February that it raised $95 million in a round that was led by Sina. The company has a valuation of more than $1 billion, and it’s also working with Amazon on that company’s transportation infrastructure.
TuSimple has also ran tests with the U.S. Postal service running mail through three states in the Southwest. Those results are being evaluated, the company said.
Right now, autonomous UPS trucks are operating an a stretch of highway between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. The trucks are traveling about 100 miles at a time.
The trucks run 24 hours a day with a professional driver behind the steering wheel and an engineer in the adjacent seat. While autonomous tech in trucks has been progressing at a steady pace, it’s much more difficult for passenger cars to do the same thing. On a highway, it’s a straight shot and easier for the technology to take stock of surroundings and handle routine things.
In a passenger car, the technology needs to deal with countless more variables and the unpredictability of urban environments. It requires more mapping as well.
“The economics for a robotaxi are just not as strong as for a truck,” TuSimple Chief Financial Officer Cheng Lu said. “And a lot of investors see it that way as well.”