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Shanghai Issues License to Driverless Truck Startup TuSimple for Public Trials

Shanghai could become the next hub for developers testing various types of connected and autonomous vehicles. This year, the city has awarded several licenses for trials on public roads to automotive companies developing self-driving passenger cars, such as SAIC Motor and BMW.

Riding on the momentum of the nascent sector, Shanghai officials recently released their first batch of licenses to startups specializing in autonomous trucks. Issued during a presentation ceremony, the recipients of the test plates include leading driverless truck startup TuSimple and Beijing-based Momenta.

Autonomous Road Tests in Shanghai

So far, the city's approach to licensing for developers has been productive. Based on data from Shanghai's Municipal Economic and Information Committee, autonomous vehicles participating in public trials are not affecting traffic flow in the area. Moreover, no collisions have been reported.

To cater to increased presence of driverless vehicles on the road, local officials will allocate 23.1 miles of roadway to developers for stage-two trials. Previously, the city only provided 3.47 miles for testing, with trials mostly taking place in Nanhui and Jiading districts. Shanghai has received around 90 applications from automotive companies interested in deploying their prototypes on public roads.

In Shanghai, TuSimple's autonomous trucks will be equipped with L4 self-driving features. The units are powered by computer vision, artificial intelligence and HD maps. To date, the business has safely transported more than 5,000 containers. Before expanding trials to Shanghai, the startup was operating an experimental (closed) autonomous logistics service at a China-based port, where it conducted transport-related activities without a human driver.  

"Scaling up our operations boils down to two factors – capital and talent," explained Chen Mo, the company's Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, in an interview.

"If we succeed, about 15 million truck drivers in China and the US will be initially freed from their strenuous and dangerous work."

TuSimple: Looking Ahead

With over 450 employees based in the US and China, TuSimple is rapidly expanding its operations. At the moment, it is working on adding more trucks to its autonomous fleet, with an overall goal of 500 units. In the US, the startup generates roughly $6,600 per week in revenue, thanks to its successful trials in the country.

According to South China Morning Post, the program, which involves two self-driving trucks, transports consumer goods and travels at a rate of 65 mph. The addition of 500 autonomous trucks would enable the business to generate roughly $14.4 million annually.

Since its inception, the business has amassed a whopping $83 million in funding, spread across three financing rounds (notable investors include Sina, Composite Capital Management and Nvidia GPU Ventures). The current burn rate of the company is estimated at $4 million per month. TuSimple, with headquarters in Beijing and California, plans to launch another financing round in the future.

"We hope more investors can have faith that it's going to happen in the coming decade; that more gifted graduates can choose to work on autonomous driving as their calling; and that more universities will take part in training such talent," said Mo.

This article is selected from FutureCar.

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