The US Postal Service (USPS) has awarded TuSimple, a global self-driving truck company, a contract to haul mail across the country with self-driving trucks, a move that could save the money-losing government agency millions of dollars per year if implemented, reported a TuSimple press release.
The two-week pilot started Tuesday will haul USPS trailers about 1,000 miles between USPS's Phoenix, Arizona, and Dallas, Texas distribution facilities. The 22-hour trip is often outsourced to third-party trucking companies that use multiple drivers.
During the test, a safety engineer and driver will monitor TuSimple's autonomous truck as it traverses I-10, I-20 and I-30 corridors through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
"It is exciting to think that before many people will ride in a robo-taxi, their mail and packages may be carried in a self-driving truck," said Dr. Xiaodi Hou, Founder, President and Chief Technology Officer, TuSimple. "Performing for the USPS on this pilot in this particular commercial corridor gives us specific use cases to help us validate our system, and expedite the technological development and commercialization progress."
The USPS, which has been a money pit for taxpayers, lost nearly $4 billion in 2018, could finish 2019 with a $7 billion loss. With letter volume in terminal decline, the agency is trying to automate its transportation fleet as one way to cut expenses.
"We are conducting research and testing as part of our efforts to operate a future class of vehicles which will incorporate new technology to accommodate a diverse mail mix, enhance safety, improve service, reduce emissions, and produce operational savings," a postal service spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal in an email.
Several years ago, autonomous mobile robots caught the attention of the USPS Office of Inspector General, who said autonomous vehicles have the potential to cut costs, increase efficiency, and enable new services. While delivery robots are still technologically immature to be fully scalable across major cities, autonomous long-haul trucking could be more realistic in the next several years.
Automation has the potential to reshape the US economy in the 2020s. The rapid adoption of new automation technologies across the entire economy could eliminate 20% to 25% of current jobs, hitting the middle class the hardest. The automation wave has started, middle America should be absolutely terrified that robots could soon replace them in the next 10 years.