U.S. Postal Service Tests Self-Driving Trucks

May 21, 2019
Originally published on May 22, 2019 10:23 am

The U.S. Postal Service is experimenting with self-driving trucks to move mail across state lines.

The USPS has partnered with San Diego-based TuSimple on a two-week pilot program focusing solely on a 1,000-mile route between Dallas and Phoenix.

TuSimple's chief product officer Chuck Price told NPR the test runs, which began on Tuesday, will help the Postal Service "become future-ready." The aim of the program, according to the Postal Service, is "to accommodate a diverse mail mix, enhance safety, improve service, reduce emissions, and produce operational savings."

It will involve five round trips, traveling major interstates that cross Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Each truck will have a "safety engineer" and driver on board for the duration of the pilot to monitor vehicle performance and to ensure public safety.

The Postal Service usually contracts out such long-haul trips, which involve large freight trailers carrying thousands of pieces of mail, as opposed to the small trucks making door-to-door deliveries.

Having humans in the driver seat — actually doing the driving — on long-distance routes like the one being tested is challenging "because it's 22 hours in one direction, requires teams of drivers and it's very hard to recruit drivers into this kind of run," Price said.

The pilot marks TuSimple's debut run into Texas. The commercial freight moving company has been operating autonomous vehicles primarily in Arizona since 2018.

The Postal Service also has ideas for using self-driving vehicles for home delivery, perhaps using vehicles that follow behind a mail carrier who walks a route.

It is unclear how much the pilot program will cost, but the Postal Service stressed it does not receive tax dollars for operating expenses.

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