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Autonomous driving in commercial vehicles took a step closer this week as an American company performed the first fully driverless truck trip over an 80 mile stretch. It was the first time such a trip had been attempted without any human driver at the wheel to intervene.
TuSimple, a start-up trucking company based in San Diego, undertook the journey at night on December 22 on an 80 mile section of road from Tucson to a distribution centre in Phoenix.
The trip took a total of an hour and twenty minutes.
Along the way the company tested out the vehicle’s Autonomous Driving System (ADS) to tackle a series of obstacles including traffic signals, on and off ramps and lane changes.
The truck also interacted with other motorists naturally, according to TuSimple.
It’s the first time a class 8 autonomous truck has been tested on public roads and the company proudly boasted it signals just the start of future plans.
Cheng Lu, President and CEO, TuSimple, said in a statement: “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, prioritising safety and collaboration every step of the way.
“This test reinforces what we believe is our unique position at the forefront of autonomous trucking, delivering advanced driving technology at commercial scale.”
The company says its driverless system would reduce the cost of operating with a human driver by 40 percent.
TuSimple also estimates that a virtual driver would reduce fuel costs by around 10 percent.
Over the 80 mile trip the lorry was supported by a scouting vehicle driving five miles ahead to check for anything unexpected on the route.
An additional support vehicle tailed the truck half a mile behind in case of any issues.
TuSimple says that it has already completed two million miles of testing for its trucks, with 70 prototypes assembled.
Several unmarked police cars also accompanied the truck on its journey.
Although the truck was pre-loaded with cargo, the main focus was on checking the tech performed correctly.
Said Lu: “The challenge of a truck, if you think about an 80,000 pound Class 8 vehicle, it drives on the highway at much faster speeds, like 65 miles per hour, and it’s significantly more heavy and harder to control, harder to brake.
“The safety implications, the reliability, are much higher.”
The truck has on-board technology that allows it to see 360 degrees around the vehicle and more than 3,000 feet away.
The company’s perception technology is capable of a staggering 600 trillion operations every second.
In the build up to this week’s test, the company performed 1,800 runs along 150,000 miles in total down the 1-10 highway in Arizona.
And TuSimple will continue to test driverless trucks in 2022, hoping to launch them commercially in 2024.
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