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USPS taps self-driving big rigs to move mail between cities

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is exploring the idea of transporting mail across the country using self-driving trucks.

The USPS has partnered with autonomous-truck company TuSimple for trial deliveries between its distribution centers in Phoenix, Arizona, and Dallas, Texas — a distance of around 1,000 miles.

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Five round trips will take place across a period of two weeks, each one covering a distance of around 1,800 miles. And don’t be concerned if you find yourself tootling along the I-10, I-20, or I-30 during the trial and notice one of TuSimple’s autonomous trucks bearing down on you — the company is sending them out with both a safety engineer and a back-up driver to monitor performance and generally keep an eye on everything.

The USPS and TuSimple will operate the self-driving trucks for 22 hours at a time, which means overnight drives will also form part of the testing as they rumble along roads in three states.

“It is exciting to think that before many people will ride in a robo-taxi, their mail and packages may be carried in a self-driving truck,” TuSimple founder and president Dr. Xiaodi Hou said in a release. “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.”

With the American Trucking Association citing a possible driver shortage of 175,000 by 2024, it’s easy to see why an increasing number of companies are exploring autonomous technology as a possible solution for moving freight across the country. The USPS said that such a system could also help it to reduce fuel costs, improve truck safety on the road, and boost its fleet utilization rate through longer hours of operation.

TuSimple was founded in 2015 and has bases in San Diego and Beijing. The company is working on the development of a Level 4 autonomous truck for commercial use. At the start of this year, it had 11 autonomous trucks performing test drives on Arizona roads, with a number of companies paying it to move their cargo during those trips.

For more information on TuSimple’s technology and how it’s putting it to work, check out Digital Trends’ interview with Chuck Price, the company’s chief product officer.

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