Are automated freight trucks ready to carry retail’s heavy load?
TuSimple, an automated trucking technology company, announced the launch of what it is calling the world’s first Autonomous Freight Network (AFN), which will enable fleets of driverless trucks using digitally mapped routes to load and unload full truckloads of products at terminals strategically placed throughout the country.
UPS, McLane, Penske Truck Leasing and U.S. Xpress have all signed up to be part of the network, which will roll out in three phases.
By next year, the network will offer service between cities including Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio and Tucson. TuSimple currently operates seven different autonomous trucking routes between Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso and Dallas. Each truck has a human operator on board in case they are needed to take over for some reason. The company plans to open a new shipping terminal in Dallas during the fall.
The second phase, expected to be in place sometime in 2022 or 2023, will connect the two coasts with a link between Los Angeles and Jacksonville.
By 2024, AFN expects to have routes running throughout the lower 48 states, with customers using their own driverless truck fleets. Penske, which operates 750 service facilities around the country, will provide maintenance and service to the L4-class trucks to keep them on the road and running both day and night.
Until now, scaling autonomous trucking fleets and the infrastructure to support them has been difficult. While it remains to be seen, it appears that AFN has at the very least begun to address that issue.
The need to effectively and efficiently move freight across the country is paramount to the success of retailers and brands alike. A national shortage of truckers has increased the urgency for autonomous technology to move the nation’s goods. The “2020 Supply Chain & Logistics Tech Trends To Watch” report by CB Insights cites a National Retail Federation estimate that 1.1 million new drivers will be needed over the next decade to offset the shortfall behind the wheel.
The same report points to fuel consumption as a touted benefit of autonomous truck fleets. TuSimple, for example, estimates that the AFN network will result in a 10 percent decrease in the fuel needed to move goods.
- TuSimple Launches World’s First Autonomous Freight Network with UPS, Penske, U.S. Xpress, and McLane Company, Inc. – TuSimple/PRNewswire
- Supply Chain & Logistics Tech Trends To Watch: Robotic Fulfillment, Returns Optimization, Digital Freight Forwarding, & More – CB Insights
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How important will automated trucking technology be to the future success of retailing? Do you think that issues around safety and scaling the technology have been solved?