Self-Driving Truck Tech Startup TuSimple Raises $95 Million in New Funding

Date: Friday, February 15, 2019
Source: The Wall Street Journal

Company says backing will support expansion of autonomous fleet, work with truck manufacturers

Autonomous trucking firm TuSimple has raised $95 million to expand its fleet of self-driving big rigs and fund joint product development with truck manufacturers and equipment makers, the company said Wednesday.

TuSimple’s Series D funding round was led by Chinese firm Sina Corp., known for its Weibo microblogging platform. Hong Kong-based investment firm Composite Capital Management also participated in the round, which brings the company’s total funding to $178 million, with a post-funding valuation of $1.095 billion.

The company, which has offices in the U.S. and China, is developing technology aimed at making long-haul trucking cheaper and more efficient, in part by allowing semi-trucks to run beyond the 11-hour daily operating limit in place for human drivers.

TuSimple is part of a stable of startups seeking to automate parts of long-haul and parcel transport with self-driving technology that uses artificial intelligence, laser sensors and cameras to navigate roads. TuSimple, Embark, Starsky Robotics and truck-platooning business Peloton Technology Inc. have drawn strong interest from venture capital funds and have struck a variety of operating agreements with truck manufacturers and operators to test their technology.

TuSimple’s technology is built around cameras that it claims provide better long-range predictive capabilities than lidar, the technology used in most self-driving passenger cars that offers a 3-D laser view of the environment.

The company’s cameras can see about 1,000 meters, or 3,280 feet ahead, said Chuck Price, TuSimple’s chief product officer. “From a half mile away we can spot emergency vehicles, cars broken down on the side of the road, people walking around,” Mr. Price said.

Founded in 2015, TuSimple has about 500 employees. The company declined to disclose its annual revenue, but said its goal was to hit $1 million in revenue per month within the year.

The company has two delivery routes in Arizona that deploy its technology on retrofitted trucks, with backup drivers and engineers on board, that haul loads for a dozen customers that it declined to name. The average run is about 200 miles and is automated from end to end, including surface-street navigation, Mr. Price said, although the trucks need a human driver to back up to loading docks.

The company plans to expand to five routes, including one running between Arizona and Texas along Interstate 10, focused on facilities within a few miles of the highway. It has 11 vehicles in its overall fleet now and plans to expand to more than 50 tractors by June.

TuSimple is working with truck manufacturers Navistar International Corp. and PaccarInc. and components suppliers such as engine-maker Cummins Inc. The company will use the new investment to fund joint development with those companies to integrate autonomous software with powertrain, braking and steering systems as it pushes to achieve commercial scale.

The economic drivers around autonomous trucking are stronger than for passenger cars, Mr. Price said, and the company believes the trucks will be profitable to operate on a cost-per-mile basis once it can safely remove the test driver and engineer. “We are confident that we will have our first commercial driverless operation in late 2020 to 2021,” he said.

 

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