A Chinese start-up with powerful backing plans to test a fleet of self-driving trucks in Arizona and Shanghai next year, competing with Uber Technologies Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Waymo in transforming the way goods are delivered.
Haulage is ripe for disruption by automation because the industry faces a growing shortage of drivers and transporting cargo between fixed points is less complicated than city driving, said Chen Mo (陳默), 33, cofounder and chief executive officer of Beijing-based Tusimple (圖森未來科技), which is backed by Sina Corp (新浪), operator of China’s biggest microblogging site.
Self-driving trucks could cut logistics costs by 40 percent in the US and 25 percent in China, as they can run longer than human-piloted rigs without rest and save at least 10 percent on fuel, Chen said.
They could also improve safety, especially in China, where trucks kill about 25,000 people a year, according to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security.
“It’s natural for us to start the business simultaneously as both countries feature a trucker shortage and huge cargo transportation demand,” Chen said in an interview in his office in Beijing. “China’s trucking industry is costly, inefficient and dangerous” and Tusimple’s technology “can reduce the casualty rate to 25 percent of the current level.”
The start-up plans to order 60 to 100 specially retrofitted trucks for the tests from a US truckmaker and China’s Shaanxi Heavy Duty Motor Co (陝西重型汽車). The vehicles are to have 10 cameras, three radars and a control system to analyze traffic conditions.
The plan, regulations permitting, is to introduce commercial services in 2019, initially on two routes: A 193km highway stretch between Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona, and a 32km leg between a Shanghai port and warehouse, after completing 4.8 million kilometers of road tests in a year.
Instead of selling the automation technology to logistics firms or fleet owners, Tusimple plans to get into the haulage business.
The industry in China is more fragmented than in the US, with large numbers of truck owners who lack proper training or insurance, Chen said.
Tusimple would be ahead of Uber and Waymo to start road tests in China, where nine out of 10 of the nation’s 30 million truckers are individuals subcontracted by logistics companies.
China hauled 30.5 billion tonnes of cargo last year, compared with 9.4 billion tonnes in the US.
Nearly 30 percent of Chinese truckers have driver fatigue that can lead to slower reaction and inability to keep their eyes open during the early morning and afternoon, according to G7 Networks, a Beijing-based vehicle connectivity technology company that tracks data with equipment on commercial vehicles.
Chinese drivers earn an average 300,000 yuan (US$46,000) for running 100,000km per year and younger drivers are opting for jobs like couriers in cities that pay more, the G7 study said.
Tusimple has no plans to develop driverless passenger cars as intracity driving is much more complex than highway piloting and there is less of a discernible return in terms of business costs in removing the human driver from a private-hire car, Chen said.
Those economics have attracted others.
Tesla Inc met with California and Nevada agencies about testing an autonomous semi-truck after chief executive officer Elon Musk tweeted his ambition to add driverless trucks to the line-up.
Waymo — spun off from Google’s self-driving car project — in June said that it is exploring integrating its hardware and software into a truck.
Uber’s truck division is focused on developing self-driving technology in the US, a media representative for the company said in an e-mail.
The US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is to hold a hearing on Wednesday to examine autonomous commercial vehicles and how they might fit into the Senate’s self-driving vehicle legislation.
US House of Representatives lawmakers passed a wide-ranging bill to speed the introduction of self-driving vehicles, applying only to passenger cars and light trucks.
Tusimple has raised a total of US$27.5 million so far from a group of investors, including Santa Clara, California-based Nvidia Corp, which also provides graphic chips to Tesla.
The start-up aims to raise another US$150 million before seeking an initial public offering in the next few years, Chen said, without giving a specific timetable.
In June, Tusimple completed a 320km Level 4 test drive from San Diego to Yuma, Arizona, using an Nvidia graphics-processing unit and cameras as primary sensors.
Level 4 is industry-speak for vehicles that can pilot themselves in almost all environments and will stop safely if the human driver does not respond to a request for them to take over.
The ultimate goal is Level 5 — no steering wheel, brake pedal or human required.
Polytronics Technology Corp (聚鼎科技) yesterday announced that it is buying Henkel AG’s thermal clad dielectric material (TCLAD) business division for US$26 million as the Taiwanese firm aims to improve its technology, product portfolio and revenue performance. Polytronics, headquartered in the Hsinchu Science Park (新竹科學園區), is a supplier of protection components and heat dissipation materials. The firm entered the metallic heat-dissipation substrate market in 2007 and developed a unique solventless production process. Its board of directors approved signing an agreement with Henkel to acquire the German chemical firm’s TCLAD division in the US. The purchase includes all assets and business interests, including equipment,
ELECTRIC FARMLAND: TSMC’s proposal to clear 230 hectares of reforested land for what would become Taiwan’s largest photovoltaic solar farm has generated concerns New rules curbing solar farms built on agricultural land sparked fierce debate at a packed public hearing at the Legislative Yuan yesterday, with industry representatives saying that the new restrictions would endanger President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) green energy goals, while agricultural officials emphasized the importance of protecting farmers and the environment. The Tsai administration has set a target to generate 20 percent of the nation’s power from renewable sources by 2025, by which time it also aims to install 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar power, including 6GW from rooftop solar systems and 14GW from ground-mounted solar farms. Although rooftop solar systems are
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC, 台積電) yesterday posted monthly revenue that suggested second-quarter sales surpassed analysts’ estimates, underscoring how its technological lead is helping the chipmaker weather the COVID-19 pandemic and US sanctions on its second-biggest customer Huawei Technologies Co (華為). Apple Inc’s main iPhone chipmaker posted sales of NT$120.88 billion (US$4.08 billion) for last month, up 40.8 percent year-on-year and bringing its revenue for the second quarter to NT$310.7 billion, beating the NT$308.8 billion analysts expected on average. TSMC, a barometer for the industry thanks to its heft in the global supply chain, had previously lowered its revenue outlook for this
‘SENSITIVE MARKETS’: The previously unannounced project would involve the company handing over control of data to a third party to sidestep privacy concerns Google has abandoned plans to offer a major new cloud service in China and other politically sensitive countries due in part to concerns over geopolitical tensions and the COVID-19 pandemic, two employees familiar with the matter said, revealing the challenges for US tech giants to secure business in those markets. In May, the search giant shut down the initiative, known as “Isolated Region” and which sought to address nations’ desires to control data within their borders, the employees said. The action was considered a “massive strategy shift,” said one of the employees, who added that Isolated Region had involved hundreds of employees