Driverless vehicles are already on the streets of Texas, with extra to come back

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(TNS) – The age of 18-wheel self-driving vehicles driving on U.S. freeways may be a lot closer than many people believe, and northern Texas is the likely location of a major hub for the trucks.

One company aggressively working to build a nationwide freight network for driverless trucks is TuSimple, with offices in Beijing and San Diego. TuSimple recently announced plans to build a hub for its autonomous trucks at AllianceTexas development in Fort Worth.

The trucks use cameras and sensors that provide large amounts of data so the vehicle’s computer software knows what is happening up to 3,000 feet on the road and can respond to emergencies ten times faster than a typical human.

TuMobile currently operates the self-propelled trucks with a security operator in the driver’s seat who can take control if necessary and a test engineer in the front passenger seat to monitor the on-board cyber system. However, the company plans to potentially have its trucks operating on select routes – including routes in Texas – with no people in the cab as early as next year.

ARE SELF-DRIVING TRUCKS LEGAL?

Driverless cars are already legal on Texas roads. In 2017, state lawmakers passed a bill, written by Senator Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, that allows automated vehicles to use highways in Texas, as long as the vehicles are insured and equipped with video recording equipment.

TuSimple is already driving self-driving trucks from Arizona to West Texas, and the new Fort Worth hub will help the company expand its network to Austin, San Antonio and Houston. The company aims to have its nationwide network in place by 2023.

The company will establish its logistics center in Fort Worth on Eagle Parkway in the so-called Mobility Innovation Zone near Alliance Airport. The zone was created last year as a place for shipping companies to test, scale and market their latest technology.

Bell, BNSF and Deloitte are among the companies operating in the zone, which provides easy access to Interstate 35W and other highways, the BNSF Intermodal Yard and the air transport hub at Alliance Airport.

TuSimple is also supported by UPS, another shipping company with a ground hub at AllianceTexas.

“TuSimple is building the world’s first autonomous freight network. An important part of our strategy is to secure suitable locations for our terminals. The Mobility Innovation Zone is exactly what we were looking for,” said Lee White, Vice President of Strategy at TuSimple in an email.

MOVEMENT OF GOODS IN TEXAS

In general, the idea behind TuSimple’s version of freight transport is to move goods from ports – including goods that often arrive at seaports such as the Los Angeles area and then shipped by rail to Texas – to regional distribution centers in the US

The construction of the TuSimple Alliance Hub is underway and is expected to be completed in March. The logistics center will include an autonomous truck operation, service points and office space.

“TuSimple is the perfect partner for Hillwood in our efforts to accelerate innovative mobility technologies within the MIZ,” said Ross Perot, Jr., chairman of Hillwood, the company that develops and manages AllianceTexas.

“As the industry leader in providing autonomous long-haul truck routes, TuSimple is bringing this technology to AllianceTexas today to ensure that MIZ will be a global focus in commercializing next-generation logistics solutions,” said Perot.

Transportation and logistics are $ 1.8 trillion, said Russell Laughlin, executive vice president of Hillwood. Companies that specialize in moving goods across the country are working hard to cut shipping costs by reducing inefficiencies in the system, and they believe automated trucks will be a critical part of their success, he said.

The COVID pandemic has exposed some of these inefficiencies as companies like Amazon and Walmart have at times struggled to meet customer demands to have goods delivered direct to their homes – making improving the freight network an even more pressing matter.

The Mobility Innovation Zone makes Fort Worth a more attractive destination for venture capitalists to put their money into projects like TuSimple’s expansion. And, Laughlin said, the zone can set the stage for Fort Worth to become a hotbed for higher-paying, high-tech jobs.

“We have the highways. We have an airport and we have a huge logistics cluster (and) an inland port,” said Laughlin. “You can’t find it anywhere else in the world.”

© 2020 the Fort Worth Star Telegram, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.