UPS joins race for future of delivery services by investing in self-driving trucks

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(Photo from MGN Online; United Parcel Service of America, Inc.)

(ABC NEWS) – The self-driving tractor-trailer of the future is one step closer, with UPS in tow.

UPS announced an investment in TuSimple, an autonomous truck startup, on Thursday in an effort to cut costs and time in the ever-increasing race for more-efficient ground deliveries. UPS has already contracted TuSimple to deliver packages between Phoenix and Tucson since May, UPS revealed in the announcement.

“Throughout the ongoing tests, UPS has been providing truckloads of goods for TuSimple to carry on a North American Freight Forwarding route between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. The company initiated self-driving service in May, 2019, with a driver and engineer in the vehicle. TuSimple and UPS monitor distance and time the trucks travel autonomously, safety data and transport time,” according to the statement from UPS.

Neither company commented on the size of the investment.

In May, the United States Postal Service (USPS) contracted with TuSimple to drive five round trips between distribution centers in Phoenix and Dallas.

Like all self-driving vehicles currently operating, TuSimple trucks require a driver at all times. There’s also an engineer on board the trips. Eventually, TuSimple is betting its fleet can reduce shipping costs by 30%, according to the statement.

Driver pay is the largest cost for trucking companies, accounting for as much as 43% of operational costs, according to the American Transportation Research Institute.

A spokesperson for the Teamsters Union, which represents truck drivers, told ABC News that these driverless trucks do not affect their members who drive for UPS, because these trailers are used in air freight logistics, and are not package delivery drivers, who are union members.

“We have been and continue to monitor technological developments as it pertains to automation in trucking,” the Teamsters Union spokesperson said.

“While fully autonomous, driverless vehicles still have development and regulatory work ahead, we are excited by the advances in braking and other technologies that companies like TuSimple are mastering,” UPS’ Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer Scott Price said in a statement. “All of these technologies offer significant safety and other benefits that will be realized long before the full vision of autonomous vehicles is brought to fruition — and UPS will be there, as a leader implementing these new technologies in our fleet.”

The 4-year-old San Diego company also claims that its trucks will “increase road safety,” founder Xiaodi Hou said.

When the company announced its pilot program with the U.S. Postal Service, its safety pitch addressed the difficulty of recruiting drivers to overnight shifts, which Hou said usually requires two drivers.

“Driving teams are challenging to recruit due to overnight driving requirements, the need to share close quarters with another person and a significant truck driver shortage,” he said.

As the e-commerce market booms, so does the competition to deliver packages while embracing more efficient tracking systems and moving toward autonomous vehicles and robots.

In January, Amazon debuted a delivery robot named Scout, with a human walker, for that last “retail mile” of deliveries. Earlier this month the company announced it was extending the Scout trial program to Irvine, California.

The online retailer announced in June it plans to start drone delivery “within months.”

In February, FedEx unveiled the “FedEx SameDay Bot,” for same-day orders within a 3-mile distance from a store. The program was slated to roll out this summer in Memphis, Tennessee, with Autozone, Pizza Hut, Target and Walmart signed up as partners.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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