Mailboxes in Texas and Arizona may soon be full of letters delivered partly from a self-driving semitrailer. The United States Postal Service will partner with self-driving truck startup TuSimple to test autonomous mail transportation, the company said Tuesday.
The semi trucks the company will use for its pilot program are equipped with Level 4 self-driving technology. On the SAE scale of autonomy, Level 4 is nearly fully self-driving. If the system fails, the technology does not need to hand controls back over to a human driver.
TuSimple said the pilot semitrailers will have a safety engineer and a backup human driver onboard to monitor the technology's performance and to ensure public safety during the tests. The trucks will run for 22 hours each for two weeks along Interstate 10, Interstate 20, and Interstate 30. TuSimple specifically targeted the area—especially I-10—since freight moved on this stretch accounts for 60 percent of the United States' total economic activity, according to them.
The type of work the USPS plans to give the self-driving semis is well-suited to the trucks, too. The long-haul routes with short turnaround times are difficult for humans since it requires two drivers and runs overnight. For the USPS, it hopes the technology could increase efficiency, reduce fuel costs, and improve vehicle utilization with longer operating hours. A self-driving semi doesn't need to stop for food or sleep, after all.
Although the USPS awarded the contract to TuSimple on Tuesday, it's unclear when the tests will be carried out.