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Startup spotlight: autonomous trucking with TuSimple

San Diego-based autonomous trucking unicorn TuSimple was founded in 2015 with the intent of developing self-driving autonomous trucks

San Diego-based autonomous trucking unicorn TuSimple was founded in 2015 with the intent of developing self-driving autonomous trucks.

The company is aiming to drive trucks which reach level 4 on the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Levels of Driving Automation Standard. Although below the highest level 5 standard, denoting vehicles fully autonomous in all situations, level 4 vehicles of the type TuSimple are developing are able to drive fully autonomously in specific circumstances – such as the usual trucking fare of highways and depots.

Today, TuSimple announced the raising of a further $120mn for the company’s oversubscribed series D round, summing with the $95mn raised in February for a total of $215mn. Led by Sina Corp of Weibo fame, the round also included CDH Investments, Mando Corporation and delivery company UPS.

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The backing from UPS is perhaps the most significant, representing a thumbs up for the technology from a major player. Indeed, in TuSimple’s press release, the company hailed the support as a “first-of-its-kind strategic investment from a shipper” into autonomous trucking.

In August, UPS itself announced that it was testing TuSimple’s services on a route in Arizona, between Phoenix and Tucson. The trials began in May, with a driver and engineer in the vehicle, which nevertheless operates autonomously.

TuSimple suggested the funding would help it to disrupt the existing trucking industry, with its technology making possible self-driving heavy duty trucks of the highest classification. Estimating the industry in the US as being worth $800bn, TuSimple identified the advantages of autonomous trucking as including increased safety, lowered costs and reduced carbon emissions.

Cheng Lu, TuSimple’s CFO, told Business Insider: "We're very fortunate to have these shareholders and now new investors. It puts us, I would say, well ahead of the pack in terms of our funding. We're very well capitalized to continue our development effort as we progress to commercial production."

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