By Thomas Black
(Bloomberg) — United Parcel Service Inc. is taking a minority stake in self-driving truck company TuSimple and conducting test runs with the startup.
The undisclosed investment is part of an effort to understand what it would take to produce a fully autonomous truck, said Todd Lewis, who runs UPS Ventures. Developing a computer-driven truck requires advances in areas such as assisted braking and lane-change warnings that also could be used in traditional vehicles, he said.
UPS is the largest fleet on Fleet Owner's For-Hire 500.
That desire to invest in technologies that serve current needs reflects a change at UPS Ventures, which was formed in 1997 as the Strategic Enterprise Fund. The $150 million fund was renamed and revamped when Scott Price, a former Walmart Inc. executive, was hired in December 2018 as the courier’s chief transformation officer.
“We’ve shifted gears into a capability-driven model,” Lewis said. “Not only are we looking to form deeper relationships with our investments, but we’re also equally looking to give them real-life problems to solve and have a real environment to test and scale into.”
UPS’s freight forwarding business is providing cargo for hauling between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, on trucks guided by TuSimple’s autonomous system. A driver and engineer are also on board. The startup, valued at about $1 billion in a $95 million funding round in February, carried U.S. Postal Service trailers between Phoenix and Dallas in May.
UPS Ventures has investments in 22 companies in areas such as robotics, blockchain, 3D printing and artificial intelligence and wants to increase that number, Lewis said.