On December 21, 2016, TuSimple, a Chinese autonomous driving startup, signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the government in the Caofeidian District of Tangshan, Hebei Province, China. According to the agreement, TuSimple has been given permission to test its autonomous trucks in Caofeidian District and it is expected to begin its first trial operation of inter-city automated logistics in October 2017. This makes it possible for TuSimple to realize commercialization of autonomous trucks earlier than American companies like Otto and Peloton.
Caofeidian District, conveniently situated in the center of Bohai Bay, is adjacent to two big cities—Beijing and Tianjing. There are a number of major highways within the District, which provide favorable conditions for the development of automated logistics. In recent years, the Chinese government intends to expand the scope of Beijing as a regional radiation center. To achieve this goal, the government has incorporated Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei into the collaborative development plan and attempts to turn Caofeidian into a demonstration and experimental zone of modern industrial development. Therefore, the autonomous driving trial program in Caofeidian immediately gained policy support from the government.
The Caofeidian government stated in the agreement that the government will coordinate policies and regulations regarding test site and infrastructure. TuSimple will set up a research and development (R&D) center in Caofeidian to modify autonomous trucks, conduct closed-venue and highway road tests, collect data and optimize algorithms.
TuSimple uses a deep learning super-computer plus low cost vision/radar sensors to achieve reliable perception. Without using costly LiDar, this solution is particularly easy to commercialize. Earlier this year, its state-of-the-art technology broke 10 world records and ranked number one in KITTI and Cityscapes, the most influential public leaderboard in autonomous driving.
TuSimple has also joined hands with many Chinese heavy truck manufacturers and logistics companies to develop the first autonomous truck in China. After successful road tests, TuSimple will cooperate with logistics companies to establish an Automated Logistics Zone in Caofeidian, realizing the world’s first commercial operation of automated logistics. Once the pilot program proves successful, TuSimple will expand its business in logistics and transportation nationwide by establishing joint venture plants, mass manufacturing driverless trucks and undertaking automated transportation of major highways.
Statistics show that in China, there are about 7.2 million trucks and 16 million truck drivers responsible for inter-city freight transport, producing over 300 billion worth of productive value. However, the cost of hiring truck drivers accounts for around 40% of the total cost, which takes a toll on trucking companies’ profit margins. TuSimple provides a technology that allows a single driver to lead a fleet of unmanned trucks, which effectively solves problems like labor shortage, population aging, fatigue driving and thus helps reduce accident rates of long-distance driving.
Unlike complex road conditions in the urban scenarios, highway automatic driving is relatively simpler and easier to commercialize. In addition to TuSimple, Baidu, the Chinese search engine giant, has also developed its driverless trucks and cooperated with a Beijing truck manufacturer to produce super trucks, aiming to offer similar solutions. Thanks to low-cost solutions and regulation supports from the Chinese government, TuSimple and Baidu may be the first to realize commercialization of autonomous trucks in the world.