TuSimple gets heavy-duty funding for autonomous fleet

TuSimple gets heavy-duty funding for autonomous fleet

TuSimple displayed Its self-driving Navistar International LT semi at CES 2019. Source: PRNewsfoto/TuSimple

TuSimple, which is developing self-driving trucks, today said that it has raised $95 million in Series D funding. The San Diego startup has a valuation of $1 billion and plans to use the investment for further development and commercialization.

Chinese media company Sina Corp. led the round, and Hong Kong-based Composite Capital participated. After its Series D, which was completed in December 2018, TuSimple has raised $178 million so far.

TuSimple stated that it “is aiming to transform the $800 billion U.S. trucking industry by increasing safety, lowering costs, reducing carbon emissions and providing tools to optimize fleet logistics for operators.”

Relieving human drivers of long-haul demands has been a goal of autonomous truck developers. The American Trucking Association said in 2017 that the industry could face a shortfall of 50,000 drivers.

The global market for semi-autonomous trucks will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.38 percent between 2018 and 2025, predicts Markets and Markets. It also forecast a CAGR of 39.96 percent for autonomous trucks, in terms of units sold, for the same period.

Already on the roads

“Autonomous driving is one of the most complex AI systems humans have ever built,” said Dr. Xiaodi Hou, founder, president, and chief technology officer of TuSimple. “After three years of intense focus to reach our technical goals, we have moved beyond research into the serious work of building a commercial solution.”

The self-driving truck startup claims that its camera-based, sensor-fusion system enables its vehicles to see with “centimeter-level accuracy” and 1,000 meters ahead — regardless of weather conditions. It also uses deep learning on Nvidia processors to beat conventional lidar performance. Nvidia was an investor in an earlier round.

TuSimple said it is the only company that is already making autonomous deliveries. It has been testing its commercial autonomous fleet in Arizona and California and plans to expand operations to Texas. By carrying a total of three to five loads per day for 12 customers, the company is making money while testing its vehicles.

The trucks are intended to travel without human intervention from depot to depot, or Level 4 autonomy as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) rating system from zero to five. Other self-driving firms have said their technology is mainly intended for highways rather than around warehouses.

TuSimple plans to expand

TuSimple said it will use the Series D funding for “critical joint production programs” with OEMs, Tier 1 automotive supplies, and sensor partners to integrate its “autonomous software with powertrain, braking and steering systems, an essential step for the commercial production and operation of self-driving trucks.”

Uber shut down its autonomous trucking division last summer, and some industry observers and investors have been skeptical. At the same time, self-driving truck companies have also successfully raised funding, including Kodiak Robotics, rideOS, and, just last week, Ike.

TuSimple also plans to grow its fleet from 11 to 50 trucks by June and to increase its staff from about 100 people in the U.S. to 500.

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