UPS reveals it has been testing self-driving tractor-trailers

Credit: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Credit: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

UPS announced its venture capital arm, UPS Ventures, is investing in autonomous driving company TuSimple and testing self-driving tractor-trailers.

The tests of self-driving trucks started in May on a route between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, with a driver and engineer in the vehicle, according to the news release.

The company said in a Thursday news release it wants to better understand what would be required for autonomous trucking in its network at a level where "the vehicle's onboard computer is in complete control at all times, eliminating manual intervention."

TuSimple, founded in 2015, aims to bring the first self-driving truck to market with technology for shipping companies to operate self-driving tractor-trailers.

UPS noted that it contracts with third-party trucking companies to handle the influx of shipments during its peak holiday shipping season, and TuSimple believes it cut the costs of that contracted trucking by 30%.

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"UPS is committed to developing and deploying technologies that enable us to operate our global logistics network more efficiently," UPS Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer Scott Price said in a statement. "While fully autonomous, driverless vehicles still have development and regulatory work ahead, we are excited by the advances in braking and other technologies that companies like TuSimple are mastering. All of these technologies offer significant safety and other benefits that will be realized long before the full vision of autonomous vehicles is brought to fruition – and UPS will be there, as a leader implementing these new technologies in our fleet."

The potential for autonomous vehicles was a subject of negotiations in talks for a UPS-Teamsters labor contract for drivers and others who handle small packages.

The deal struck last year calls for the company to review technological changes with the union six months before rolling out changes, such as the deployment of delivery drones, driverless vehicles or other innovations.

Late last year, the threat of a strike by UPS Freight workers prompted the company to disrupt freight service. UPS Freight handles bulk shipments on pallets from shippers to stores, and when the union announced the potential for a strike, the company temporarily cleared its network of freight until workers approved the new contract.

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