Trucking can be tough work, with long hours and huge distances to cover. This is a ripe area for automation, as autonomous vehicles could potentially travel further and faster without needing to take regular breaks for safety reasons. Several companies are working in this direction, including TuSimple, who recently put their technology to work to deliver watermelons across the country, according to reports from SingularityHub.
Delivery took place from Arizona to Oklahoma, with TuSimple’s autonomous truck completing the route in just 14 hours and 6 minutes. It is estimated that the same route by a human driver takes more than 24 hours. Autonomous driving technology took control of the vehicle for more than 80% of the ride, running the mid-section of Tuscon, Ariz., To Dallas, Texas, a distance of approximately 960 miles. TuSimple’s autonomous driving system is optimized for highway driving, with the majority of the route driving on interstate roads. The journeys through urban areas at either end were handled by a human driver, who was on board the entire race.
The shortened journey time is not only convenient; it also has advantages in the real world. TuSimple has chosen to demonstrate this by carefully choosing its cargo. Fresh products like watermelons benefit from fast delivery. This means that the customer is left with a fresher product and there is also potentially less waste due to spoilage. While anyone is unlikely to be too keen on getting their watermelon ten hours fresher than usual, the benefits could be much greater on longer trips where self-driving trucks could earn even more. of time. Jim Mullen, Administrative and Legal Director of TuSimple, said: “Because self-driving trucks can run almost continuously without a break, fresh produce can be moved more quickly from origin to destination, allowing for ” get fresher food and less waste. “
Although the race saved a considerable amount of time, driverless technology has an unfair advantage in this space. Human truck drivers are only allowed to drive 11 hours out of 2 hours on the road, with other provisions also requiring minimum rest periods between shifts. If true autonomous driving technology becomes viable for trucking, transit times for all kinds of goods could be reduced, as trucks would no longer need to stop for drivers to rest and sleep.
This however raises the question: if the human driver is to be present to supervise the vehicle on the road, then the maximum gearshift limits should also apply. While TuSimple is technically testing a Level 4 “autonomous driving” program rather than using a “driver assistance” system like Tesla’s AutoPilot, the fact that a human had to be present indicates that a supervision was required. There is also no information as to whether the human driver had to take over at any given time, and if so, how often. So long hours would still have a negative impact on attention and safety, even if a computer handles most of the driving.
TuSimple isn’t a flash in the plan, having worked for the future of self-driving trucking for a few years now. The company faces not only technical hurdles in its quest, but also opposition from truckers who fear losing their jobs because of the robots. The company seems well positioned to tackle these issues, but going forward the proof will not be in the pudding, but in the watermelon.
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