Photo: TuSimple
Navistar International Lt Tusimple Truck

TuSimple among autonomous truck companies to join Self-Driving Coalition

Jan. 11, 2021
The coalition to form policies and build public trust surrounding self-driving vehicles was founded by Ford, Lyft, Uber, Volvo, and Waymo. The new group of Embark, Kodiak, and TuSimple are the first to be exclusively dedicated to autonomous vehicles.

The Self-Driving Coalition, which was formed in 2016 to educate and evangelize the public, politicians, and regulators on the merits of self-driving vehicles, has added its first three autonomous truck companies: Embark, Kodiak, and TuSimple.

These are the first members to exclusively work with self-driving trucks, which seek to make the roadways safer by replacing human drivers with futuristic robotic and visioning technology. While the truth of that is unproven, human-helmed trucking has been under scrutiny for the rise in traffic fatalities over the past decade.

Fatal crashes involving large trucks rose 46% from 2009 (3,380 deaths) to 2018 (4,951 deaths), according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Over that same period, it’s estimated injuries from crashes involving these trucks more than doubled, from 74,000 in 2009 to 151,000 in 2018. The NHTSA, which defines large trucks as exceeding a 10,000-lb. gross vehicle weight rating, noted 75% of the fatal accidents involved a heavy-duty truck (GVWR>26,000 lbs.).

Many in the industry also point to a consistent shortage of drivers as a top safety and operational problem. Trucks driven by artificial intelligence that rely on sophisticated cameras and lidar sensors are thought as a way to combat both issues.

The coalition believes that “autonomous vehicle technology holds the potential to improve safety, enhance mobility, and transform how goods and passengers move.” The coalition’s existing members include Argo AI, Aurora, Cruise, Ford, Lyft, Motional, Nuro, Uber, Volvo Cars, and Waymo.

“We’re excited to welcome Embark, Kodiak and TuSimple,” said Ariel Wolf, counsel to the Coalition. “By adding their voices to our work with federal, state and local policymakers, the Coalition enhances our commitment to make self-driving technology’s transformative potential a reality on America’s roads and highways.”

TuSimple, founded in 2015, is the most recognizable of the three, and has 40 test trucks operating in the American Southwest currently, with a deal in place with Navistar to automate a version of the International LT Series. UPS is a partner on routes and an investor. The San-Diego based startup has raised more than $300 million and this year put out a call for $250 million in Series E funding.

“We’re proud to join the Self Driving Coalition and to advance autonomous driving technologies which will help make roads safer and more efficient for everyone,” said Jim Mullen, chief administrative and legal officer of TuSimple (and former FMCSA administrator). “Our working relationship with the DOT, state and local officials has been very productive, and we look forward to joining efforts to collectively bolster the AV industry’s efforts to collaborate with government officials to bring this transformational technology to market safely and reliably.”

Embark’s 25-year-old CEO Alex Rodrigues came up with the idea for the company he co-founded when his car’s tire blew out on the highway. As he waited several hours for a repair truck, he saw many of the 18-wheelers rolling by had signs pleading “Drivers Wanted.”

“The American Transportation Research Institute estimates there is currently a shortage of 100,000 truck drivers in the industry, which is poised to only get worse as baby boomer drivers - the bulk of the industry’s workforce - retire over the next decade,” Rodrigues said in 2017 when Embark’s first Peterbilt began testing in Nevada. “Embark's goal is to increase productivity per driver and prevent the shortage from becoming a crisis.”

Four years later, Embark has raised at least $117 million and has 13 self-driving semis.

“The safety and efficiency benefits of self-driving technology are especially pronounced in freight trucking," said Rodrigues. "Embark has been working closely with federal and state officials to realize these benefits since our founding in 2016. We are excited to add our voice and trucking perspective to the Self-Driving Coalition and ensure businesses and consumers who rely on freight trucking can benefit from self-driving technology."

Kodiak Robotics, founded in 2018, started hauling between Dallas and Houston the following year using Kenworth trucks loaded with its suite of self-driving tech.

“We’ve long admired the work of the Self-Driving Coalition, and are thrilled to join given our shared commitment to improving roadway safety by bringing self-driving vehicles to American highways,” said Don Burnette, CEO of Kodiak Robotics. “Self-driving trucks will likely be among the first AVs most Americans see on the road at scale – we look forward to working with the Self-Driving Coalition to engage with policymakers and the public at large on this critical technology."

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