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Operating a shipping and logistics company in the age of Amazon has spawned new pressures that force organizations to be more aggressive in pursuing potential competitive advantages. For companies like UPS, this means investigating the cost savings that autonomous vehicles could unlock.

With this in mind, the company has been working with San Diego-based TuSimple in operating autonomous semi-trucks on five routes between Phoenix and Tucson since May. We reported on a similar partnership between TuSimple and the U.S. Postal Service in June.

TuSimple’s autonomous technology is custom-designed for Class 8 tractor-trailers that exceed 33,000 pounds. They’re also Level 4 autonomous, which means the computer is in complete control, with zero manual controls required.

During the test runs, a driver and engineer have been onboard to monitor the system, which is legally required. And although no official data has been made public, UPS must be happy with the early results, as late last week the company announced they would continue with the partnership by taking a minority stake in the TuSimple.

UPS sees the technology being pushed forward by TuSimple as key to cutting costs and gaining or maintaining a competitive advantage. A closer relationship with the driverless technology company means it will be able to implement the technology as soon as it becomes available. The potential to increase operator safety and reduce carbon emissions are added benefits.

Driverless semis are not the company’s first foray into new technologies aimed at reducing operational inefficiencies. The company has been researching the use of drones for a while via an internal program dubbed Flight Forward. UPS even initiated a trial service earlier this year in which drones are used to deliver medical samples between healthcare facilities in Raleigh, North Carolina.

While no exact expansion plans have been provided for TuSimple’s autonomous semis, it’s assumed that UPS will be expanding beyond those five initial routes by early next year.


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