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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In a high-profile pilot along one of America's busiest freight corridors, the U.S. Postal Service is now testing autonomous trucks as a way to deliver mail more cheaply and efficiently.

Why it matters: Self-driving trucks are likely to be rolling down interstates before robotaxis are deployed in urban areas, not only because their driving task is simpler but because they could help solve an urgent shortage of truck drivers. This 1,000-mile pilot, in partnership with AV developer TuSimple, is the first long-haul test of the technology.

Driving the news: Beginning yesterday, TuSimple's self-driving rigs started hauling USPS trailers between the postal service's mail distribution centers in Phoenix and Dallas.

  • The 2-week pilot will include 5 round trips along Interstates 10, 20 and 30 through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, all of which have more lenient regulations.
  • The trucks will run 22 hours at a time with a safety engineer and driver on board to monitor vehicle performance and ensure public safety.
  • TuSimple expects the I-10 corridor, which accounts for the largest portion of inter-regional U.S. trade, will be a "sweet spot" for automated trucking, chief product officer Chuck Price tells Axios.

The big picture: The Postal Service lost $3.9 billion in 2018 — its 12th consecutive yearly loss — despite aggressive cost-cutting efforts. Its 5-year strategic plan includes stepping up the pace of innovation, including the use of AV technology.

  • USPS is investigating proposals for how AVs might be used to improve the safety and efficiency of its postal delivery trucks, for example.

The backdrop: TuSimple, based in San Diego and China, has plenty of competition in self-driving trucks. This includes Waymo, Tesla and at least a half dozen startups, plus incumbent giants like Daimler and Volvo.

But with $178 million raised to date at a recent $1 billion valuation and a handful of revenue-generating contracts in Arizona, it appears to be pulling ahead.

  • TuSimple currently has 30 trucks deployed in the U.S. and China, and will have 50 in its fleet by the end of June.
  • Its technology can be integrated into any manufacturer's truck. So far, it's working with Paccar, Navistar and diesel-engine maker Cummins.
  • The company claims a technology edge from a proprietary vision system that can see a kilometer ahead, farther than other driverless tech companies.

What to watch: The U.S. Department of Transportation has cleared a path for autonomous trucks in its AV 3.0 policy guidelines, in part by no longer assuming that a commercial truck driver is always a human or that a human is necessarily on board.

  • And some states — Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Texas and New Mexico (pending) — already allow for commercial deployment of driverless trucks, TuSimple says.
  • "We have a roadmap to be completely driverless," Price says. "We're not ready. But we have a path to getting to 'driver out'."

Go deeper: TuSimple founder Xiaodi Hou is a charismatic 34-year-old with an ambitious plan to eliminate backup drivers as early as next year, as detailed in this recent Forbes profile.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
40 mins ago - Economy & Business

The European Central Bank and the market's moment of truth

ECB president Christine Lagarde; Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The biggest event for markets this week will be Thursday's meeting of the European Central Bank's governing council and the press conference following it from ECB president Christine Lagarde.

Why it matters: With interest rates jumping around the globe, investors are looking to central bank heads to see if they will follow the lead of Fed chair Jerome Powell, who says rising rates are nothing to worry about, or Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda, who has drawn a line in the sand on rates.

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Manchin's next power play

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), America's ultimate swing voter, told me on "Axios on HBO" that he'll insist Republicans have more of a voice on President Biden's next big package than they did on the COVID stimulus.

The big picture: Manchin said he'll push for tax hikes to pay for Biden's upcoming infrastructure and climate proposal, and will use his Energy Committee chairmanship to force the GOP to confront climate reality.

Why picking a jury for the Derek Chauvin trial is so hard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The tough task of selecting a jury for former MPD officer Derek Chauvin's trial for the killing of George Floyd is set to begin Monday.

The state of play: "This case may be the most highly publicized criminal trial in a long time. ... That means that it's harder to find people who really have an open mind," Richard Frase, University of Minnesota Law School professor of criminal law, told Axios.