The USPS Checks Out Self-Driving Vans for Hauling Mail


    The USA Postal Service has a number of methods to maneuver the 484.eight million items of mail it handles daily. In rural Alaska, postal staff run hovercraft, prop planes, and the occasional parachute. They pilot boats within the Louisiana bayou and snowmobiles in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, Utah, and Wisconsin. To succeed in the Havasupai Indian Reservation city of Supai on the backside of the Grand Canyon, they go by mule prepare. And now, to hold the mail from Phoenix to Dallas, they’re letting robots do the work.

    Alex Davies covers autonomous autos and different transportation machines for WIRED.

    Beginning Tuesday, self-driving vans constructed by startup TuSimple will haul trailers stuffed with mail and packages all by themselves. Effectively, principally by themselves: The 18-wheelers could have an authorized driver and security engineer aboard, who will deal with the driving on floor streets and take management from the robotic as wanted. The pilot undertaking will final two weeks, and embody 5 spherical journeys between the cities’ distribution hubs.

    For the postal service, autonomy may assist it reverse an unsightly monetary scenario. The company, which receives no tax dollars, has posted a loss yearly for greater than a decade. Its five-year strategic plan, overlaying 2017-2021, is filled with discuss being open to revolutionary options. In February, it issued a request for info saying it was investigating how autonomous autos might match into its fleet. It’s working with the College of Michigan on a self-driving truck to deal with rural routes. In an announcement, a spokesperson known as the pilot “simply certainly one of some ways the Postal Service is innovating and investing in its future.”

    TuSimple payments itself as a grasp of pc imaginative and prescient. Its cameras can see and determine threats about 1,000 meters away—greater than a quarter-mile and far farther than any lidar.


    For TuSimple, it’s the prospect to make some (undisclosed) income, decide up some press protection, and to check its know-how in opposition to the trials of a real-world supply service. The startup, which has headquarters in San Diego and Beijing, payments itself as a grasp of pc imaginative and prescient. Its cameras can see and determine threats about 1,000 meters away—greater than a quarter-mile and far farther than any lidar laser-scanning system. However this pilot is extra of a logistical than a technological examination.

    To construct a high-resolution report of three freeways in three states, TuSimple executed what founder and CTO Xiaodi Hou calls an “involuntary improve of our mapping infrastructure.” (It used human-driven automobiles to do this work.) For the 1,000-mile, 20-hour drive, it needed to enhance the truck’s laborious drive space for storing to deal with all the info the system will produce. And it toughened up components of the system just like the server that failed throughout a take a look at trip WIRED took final December.

    If that type of drawback does strike, TuSimple can’t take all day to get the automobile again in motion—not if it expects to maintain its first buyer blissful and finally usher in others. “These are the laborious necessities that we are going to possible encounter sooner or later,” Hou says.

    For this pilot, the human driver will deal with the truck on floor streets, however Hou says TuSimple is already seeking to a second section of the pilot, the place the robotic does all of the work. In the meantime, it’s 400-person crew is working to develop the robotic’s working envelope. The system can deal with excessive winds, night time driving (dealing with excessive beams was a ache), and rain, Hou says, whereas ice on the highway stays “a nasty drawback.” If it by no means succeeds, the Postal Service has a crew of mules up for the duty.

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