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OM in the News: The Self-Driving Postal Truck

May 30, 2019

The U.S. Postal Service is testing self-driving trucks on a 1,000-mile mail run between Phoenix and Dallas, the post office’s first use of the technology for long hauls. The move comes as investors and vehicle makers are spending millions on trucking automation, reports The Wall Street Journal (May 22, 2019).

The pilot uses big rigs supplied by autonomous trucking firm TuSimple to haul trailers on five round trips between distribution centers. The 22-hour trip along three interstate highways is normally serviced by outside trucking companies that use 2-driver teams to comply with federal regulations limiting drivers’ hours behind the wheel. The vehicle can continue operating without the hours-of-service restrictions of a human driver.

The Postal Service, which has been losing money for several years as letter volume has declined, is trying to restrain operating costs and is seeking ways to cut fuel expenses, improve truck safety and use its fleet more efficiently. Proponents of autonomous vehicle technology believe long-haul trucking, where operators say they have difficulty recruiting and retaining drivers, is a promising market for expanded use of the technology.

The TuSimple system uses cameras that the company says see more than half a mile ahead to spot emergency vehicles, pedestrians and road hazards. TuSimple’s technology allows “driveway-to-driveway” autonomous runs and its trucks navigate surface streets on delivery routes in Arizona for other customers..

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. What is driving this USPS initiative?
  2. How will this affect the trucking industry, if successful?
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