US Postal Service Explores Self-Driving Vehicles

The US Postal Service has begun a two-week trial of self-driving carrier trucks in three southwestern states. The pilot partnership with San Diego based startup TuSimple would use autonomous vehicles to move mail between Phoenix and Dallas in an effort to improve delivery times and costs.

The pilot program involves five round trips for the self-moving carrier trucks. Each trip totals more than 2,100 miles or around 45 hours of driving through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, according to Reuters. These distances are too long for a single human driver to take in one trip so success with the autonomous vehicles should reduce delivery times compared to traditional trucking and costs associated with hiring multiple drivers.

“The work with TuSimple is our first initiative in autonomous long-haul transportation,” USPS spokeswoman Kim Frum said to Reuters. “We are conducting research and testing as part of our efforts to operate a future class of vehicles which will incorporate new technology.”

This project also hopes to reduce the need for truck drivers, who are already in tight supply. The American Trucking Association estimates a shortage of as many as 174,500 drivers by 2024 due to an aging workforce and difficulty attracting younger drivers.

While TuSimple and the Postal Service declined to admit the cost of the program, Frum did claim that no tax dollars were used. Instead, the Postal Service has relied on revenue from sales of postage and other products. TuSimple raised $178 million in private financing to help fund the program.

TuSimple Chief Product Officer Chuck Price described this plan as the “sweet spot” for how autonomous vehicles will be used.

Currently, multiple companies have expressed interest in driverless cars for taxi and delivery services, but navigating urban landscapes has proved technologically and economically challenging. Conversely, mail trucks operate primarily on open interstates.

In other postal news, the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General also published a warning this week regarding spam email appearing to be from the Postal Service which prompts readers to click a link or attachment which installs a computer virus onto their devices. The Postal Service recommended individuals receive a suspicious message immediately delete the message and call the agency’s hotline.

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