TuSimple revs up Texas with new UPS autonomous trucking routes

Adding to a flurry of recent activity in the self-driving-vehicle space, autonomous trucking startup TuSimple announced Thursday it has expanded service for current customer UPS (NYSE:UPS) with new routes in Texas.

The San Diego-headquartered company will expand its UPS runs to 20 trips per week and has added an extra route between Phoenix and El Paso, Texas. Ten runs per week are on the new route, while the other 10 are on an established route between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona.

UPS’s partnership with TuSimple dates back to March 2019, when the two companies launched an ongoing pilot program. Five months later, UPS Ventures, its venture division, made a  strategic investment in the robotic trucking outfit. The amount was not disclosed.

Scott Price, UPS chief strategy and transformation officer, said in a statement that the logistics giant partnered with TuSimple to explore autonomous technology for its Global Smart Logistics Network, “which aims to improve network efficiencies, safety, and customer service.”

TuSimple has been “instrumental” to this initiative, Price added, so it was “a logical next step for us” to expand the test to additional routes.

Founded in 2015, TuSimple operates a fleet of self-driving trucks out of Tucson. The company has an office in China, but testing there has been suspended due to the coronavirus, Jason Wallace, director of marketing, told FreightWaves last month.

The autonomous trucking startup joins a handful of other new companies aiming to ship long-haul freight using self-driving big rigs. The space has seen an uptick in activity recently, with winners and losers more clearly demarcated.

On March 2, Waymo, Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving arm,  announced its first outside investment, a $2.5 billion raise led by Silver Lake Management LLC, a private equity firm. In January, Waymo started testing its self-driving trucks on roads in Texas and New Mexico.  

Einride, a Swedish self-driving truck outfit, announced it was expanding into the U.S. and hiring its first remote drivers this year.

Meanwhile, as FreightWaves reported last week, another remote-operated autonomous startup, Starsky Robotics, is struggling to find a buyer after failing to secure additional funding.

The addition of a new route and an expanded number of TuSimple runs come as the company aims to expand its autonomous capabilities and demonstrate the first driverless operation in 2021. Currently, all TuSimple runs feature a human driver behind the wheel.