Shipping giant UPS is making a bet on robotic trucking.
UPS Ventures, the company’s venture capital arm, said Thursday that it made a minority investment in autonomous driving company TuSimple.
The companies are testing self-driving trucks on a route in Arizona. UPS wants to learn whether self-driving trucks can improve service and reduce shipping expenses. The two businesses already have a relationship. UPS has contracted TuSimple to deliver cargo.
“UPS is committed to developing and deploying technologies that enable us to operate our global logistics network more efficiently,” said Scott Price, UPS’ chief strategy and transformation officer.
He said autonomous trucking still faces technical and regulatory hurdles.
However, “we are excited by the advances in braking and other technologies that companies like TuSimple are mastering,” Price said.
The technology will offer safety and other improvements that UPS can use “long before the full vision of autonomous vehicles is brought to fruition,” he said.
The TuSimple investment will help the shipping giant to better understand how so-called Level 4 autonomous trucks will fit into its network. Level 4 autonomous technology is an industry designation for vehicles that can drive themselves but still have a traditional cab that allows a human driver to take the controls.
“UPS has invested in electric and natural gas vehicles for some time now so it really was just a matter of time before they would make this kind of move,” said Cathy Morrow Roberson of Atlanta-based Logistics Trends & Insights. “Perhaps we may eventually see UPS brown-branded autonomous trucks on the road in the next few years.”
UPS already is providing truckloads of goods for TuSimple to carry on a freight route between Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz. They launched the self-driving test in May with a driver and engineer in the vehicles. TuSimple and UPS monitor distance and time the trucks travel autonomously, safety data and transport time.
The shipping company has its own fleet. But it also contracts with third-party trucking companies during its peak shipping season. TuSimple said it thinks it can slash UPS’ average purchased transportation costs by 30 percent.
“This proves their commitment to staying at the forefront of innovation,” said Xiaodi Hou, TuSimple’s founder and president. “TuSimple is confident that it can accelerate bringing the first self-driving truck to market to increase road safety.”
UPS uses its venture capital arm to invest in promising technologies. Other investments delve into companies involved in the internet of things, or IoT, technology and artificial intelligence. UPS investments also include researching advanced analytics that can increase fuel efficiency and improve customer service.
“The UPS Ventures mission is to build collaborative relationships with early-stage companies that provide capabilities and insights that accelerate technological advancements within our network,” said Todd Lewis, UPS Ventures managing partner. “UPS Ventures collaborates with startups to explore new technologies and tailor them to help meet our specific needs.”