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Who Is TuSimple?

Navistar To Build Robot Trucks With TuSimple, Buys Stake In The Self-Driving Startup

Alan OhnsmanForbes StaffTransportationI follow technology-driven changes that are reshaping transportation.

TuSimple-Navistar-partnership
TuSimple cofounder and CTO Xiaodi Hou is the architect of its self-driving software. Tim Pannell/The Forbes Collection

Truck- and busmaker Navistar International Corp. NAV +0.2% is partnering with self-driving startup TuSimple to manufacture robotic big rigs and said it’s also investing in the company, which currently has the largest fleet of autonomous semis operating on U.S. highways.

Navistar’s decision builds on an early-stage collaboration with TuSimple, which splits operations between the U.S. and China, that began in 2018 and comes after it evaluated technology from other companies that Persio Lisboa, the truckmaker’s new CEO and president, didn’t identify. The target is to have semis with Level-4 autonomous capability–meaning they can drive without human input–on the market by 2024. 

Navistar-TuSimple-tieup
Navistar President and CEO Persio Lisboa. Navistar International Corp.

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“We see that they are fairly advanced, and we are together advanced in this effort,” Lisboa tells Forbes. “We see the maturity of the organization. I think we see the talent and the level of professionals supporting the development on their side with counterparts on our side.”

Neither he nor TuSimple is saying how much Navistar is investing, though if things progress well the Lisle, Illinois-based company will likely invest more, Lisboa said, without elaborating. TuSimple has raised about $300 million from investors including UPS, Nvidia NVDA -2.6%, Chinese tech firm Sina Corp. SINA 0.0% and Hong Kong’s Composite Capital. It recently opened a Series E investment round that may bring in an additional $250 million. MORE FOR YOUTennis’ GOAT? Rafael Nadal Vs. Roger Federer, By The NumbersHydrogen Truckmaker Nikola Is Ready For Its Nasdaq DebutTrump’s Business Partners Allegedly Involved In Human Trafficking, Mafia Matters, Probable Money Laundering

The production deal is a big step forward and the first of its kind in the highly competitive autonomous trucking space, where TuSimple vies with Alphabet Inc. GOOGL -1.3%’s Waymo and startups including Embark, Kodiak, Ike and Pony.ai. More recently, Aurora, led by former Google GOOGL -1.3% Self-Driving Car Project chief Chris Urmson, also pivoted into autonomous trucks. While most of the development work for self-driving technology has focused on robotaxi and personal vehicle applications since Google kicked things off a decade ago, trucking, delivery and logistics are increasingly seen as an earlier commercial opportunity by analysts and investors. 

“The key thing here is that this is an integrated truck that is factory produced, rolling off the factory line,” says TuSimple President Cheng Lu, speaking from the company’s San Diego headquarters. “Everything of course is automotive grade so in terms of serviceability and reliability, there is an OEM standing behind this truck, which is really important for the end-user.”

Founded by Caltech-trained computer scientist Xiaodi Hou, TuSimple’s chief technology officer and architect of its AI-enabled software, the company has focused exclusively on mastering long-haul trucking for the U.S. market–and hauling cargo from ports in China–because Hou determined it was a faster way to create a revenue-generating business. (TuSimple is also a standout member of Forbes’ 2020 AI 50 list of companies to watch.)

Navistar-TuSimple Partner On Robotic Trucks; Navistar Invests in TuSimple
Truckmaker Navistar is partnering with self-driving tech startup TuSimple TuSimple

(For more, see Robo-Rigs: The Scientist, The Unicorn And The $700 Billion Race To Create Self-Driving Semi-Trucks from the May 31, 2019, issue of Forbes Magazine.) 

Navistar annually sells about 35,000 Class-8 semis in the U.S. and Canada under its International brand and has its own in-house engineering team that’s been working on autonomous tech. It will collaborate closely with TuSimple “to build in the personality of the vehicle,” says Chris Gutierrez, chief engineer of Navistar’s Advanced Driver Assistance System team.

“There’s a little bit more than just software and hardware here,” he says. “It’s one thing to say this truck will stop and turn when it needs to, but how does it interact with other drivers and become a good community driver? How do we teach the truck when it’s appropriate to turn on the turn signal before changing lanes; how fast to make that lane change; and then when does its turn signal go back off at the end of that lane change?” 

Those are just a few of the elements to be refined ahead of launching autonomous trucks from the partnership, along with redundant systems for added safety and upgrading the electrical architecture so trucks can easily accommodate the computers, digital cameras, radar and laser lidar sensors that robotic rigs require.

Navistar’s minority equity position in TuSimple is “the first phase of our two-phase approach and development process,” says Lisboa, who moved into the CEO role in June. “We’ll have the development jointly with customers and then we’ll go to a phase two, which is more of the final validation before getting into production in 2024.”

Meanwhile, TuSimple is pushing to finetune its software to be ready to operate without a safety driver at the wheel by late 2021. It’s been generating revenue the past two years with a fleet that now totals 40 trucks from its engineering depot in Tucson, Arizona, though won’t say how much. This month it announced plans to operate an Autonomous Freight Network with partners UPS, U.S. Xpress, Penske Truck Leasing and Berkshire Hathaway BRK.B -1.1%-backed food service company McLane that initially stretches 1,100 miles from Phoenix to Houston.

Shares of Navistar rose 3.1% to $29.99 in New York Stock Exchange trading on Wednesday.

Who Is PLUS? Ohhh Auto Driving

First Intelligent Truck in China Jointly Developed by FAW and Plus Passes Rigorous National Certification Test in Preparation for Mass Production in 2021

CUPERTINO, November 9, 2020

The FAW J7+ is the First Automated Truck to Pass the Certification Test

Plus (www.plus.ai), the leading provider of self-driving truck technology, announced today that China’s first intelligent truck, FAW J7+, powered by the self-driving technology of Plus, has successfully passed the national certification test at the China Automotive Technology & Research Center (CATARC). FAW J7+ has met all key safety and performance metrics to start on-road operation. This is China’s first independent certification of an automated truck, marking an important milestone for the commercialization of automated heavy-duty trucks in China.

The CATARC is the largest and one of the most advanced third-party automotive testing facilities and proving grounds in Asia. The facility team has deep expertise in automotive testing, vehicle forensic authentication, quality system certification and training, and more. The certification test that the FAW J7+ automated truck passed was based on China’s strict highway and transportation standards and rules, including JT/T 883-2014, GB/T 26773-2011, and GB/T 33577-2017.

“I’m proud of our team for achieving this significant milestone,” said Shawn Kerrigan, COO and co-founder, Plus. “As the result of years of intense technology development and collaboration with leading technology suppliers, Plus now has a best-in-class product that meets the stringent requirements of a commercial self-driving system.”

To facilitate its commercial deployment, Plus has established a tight ecosystem of partners to mass produce factory-built automated trucks. In 2018, Plus entered into a strategic partnership with FAW Jiefang and joined its “Colombo Smart Transportation” program. A year later, Plus formed a joint venture with FAW to focus on the development of automated trucks. The jointly developed FAW J7+ intelligent truck will start mass production in the first half year of 2021.

About Plus

Plus is a world leader in self-driving truck technology. Headquartered in Cupertino, CA, the heart of Silicon Valley, the company was founded in 2016 by a group of serial entrepreneurs and industry veterans, each with over 20 years of experience in high tech and artificial intelligence. Plus specializes in providing full-stack self-driving technology to enable large scale autonomous commercial transport. Plus is currently working with some of the leading truck manufacturers, largest shippers, and top fleet operators to begin mass production of its automated driving system.

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