Autonomous trucking software leader TuSimple is running six months ahead of schedule in building out the first phase of its autonomous freight network, and should reach Charlotte, North Carolina, and Orlando, Florida, by the end of the year.

TuSimple Holdings (NASDAQ: TSP) on Wednesday opened a new facility in Fort Worth, Texas, that extends its reach with supervised autonomous trucks and reduces the time it will take to complete the first part of a three-phase nationwide autonomous freight network by 2024. 

“With each new expansion, we’re able to offer the advantages of our autonomous driving technology to new customers, while increasing value to existing customers,” Jim Mullen, TuSimple chief administrative officer, said in a press release. “As we rapidly expand, one of our biggest challenges has been keeping up with customer demand.”

Template for future expansion

The new purpose-built terminal in the AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone will create 50 jobs for safety drivers, maintenance technicians and operations personnel. The terminal is the template for future TuSimple terminals.

“This moves us into Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas and Tennessee in the next six months,” Lee White, TuSimple vice president of strategy, told FreightWaves.

The terminal also will allow TuSimple to operate in the Texas Triangle, which includes Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. TuSimple has mapped 3,000 miles of Texas highways to match the needs of shippers and carriers, White said.

TuSimple currently hauls 100 loads a week between Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. 

Competitors Aurora Innovation, Waymo Via, Embark Trucks and Kodiak Robotics, which was first to begin autonomous runs in Texas, are all testing their software in the Lone Star State, where weather challenges are few and long stretches of road are plentiful.   

Robot trucks rising

TuSimple recently completed 900 miles of monitored autonomous driving on a trip carrying watermelons from Nogales, Arizona, to Oklahoma City. Human drivers started and finished the journey, and safety drivers monitored the high-autonomy Level 4 software the rest of the time.

Because robot trucks are not required to follow hours-of-service regulations, the trip took about 10 hours less than it would have with strictly human drivers.

TuSimple’s Texas expansion comes as the logistics industry experiences a growing driver shortage due in part to trucks idled during the pandemic and the loss of 600,000 drivers flagged by the federal Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse.

Truck-related crashes declined 2% last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the number of fatalities had risen for several years before that.

TuSimple has partnerships with several major carriers that serve on an executive advisory board. The carriers are also investors, along with Navistar International Corp. (NYSE: NAV), which is partnering with TuSimple to bring a driverless truck to market in 2024. TuSimple will conduct a “driver out” pilot in Arizona in the fourth quarter.

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.