Robotruck startup TuSimple has partnered with German auto supplier ZF to develop and commercialize technology for autonomous trucks.

Why it matters: TuSimple aims to begin testing truly driverless trucks—those without safety personnel on board—by 2021.

  • ZF is one of the largest automotive suppliers in the world and has made a significant push into autonomous driving.
  • TuSimple has tested its technology on a stretch of highway between Tucson and Phoenix, Ariz. since 2018. The company also won China’s first permit to trial driverless trucks in Shanghai.

Details: TuSimple and ZF will work together to develop onboard computers and sensors such as radar and lidar for autonomous trucks, according to a statement released Thursday. The German supplier will also become TuSimple’s “default supplier” when commercializing robotrucks.

  • ZF will provide engineering support to integrate and validate TuSimple’s autonomous driving platform into the trucks, the companies said.
  • The partnership is an “important milestone,” according to Chuck Price, TuSimple’s chief product officer. He said that the deal allows the companies to scale the technology toward mass-produced autonomous trucks.
  • Meanwhile, ZF said that it expects the two companies to create the first commercialized automotive-grade autonomous system for trucks.
  • The deal comes shortly after TuSimple expanded a tie-up with UPS, effectively doubling the number of autonomous delivery runs the company makes for the American logistics company.
  • TuSimple currently has 18 contracted customers and makes around 20 autonomous trips per day.

Context: Autonomous trucks are expected to reach commercialization before passenger vehicles, presenting huge potential for growth. TuSimple aims to transform America’s $800 billion trucking industry with autonomous rigs.

  • The company was founded in the US in 2015 by Hou Xiaodi and splits its operations between the US and China, with offices in Beijing and Shanghai as well as in Japan.
  • TuSimple, which is developing Level 4 autonomous long-haul trucks, secured $120 million in an extended Series D in September.

Christopher Udemans is TechNode's former Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covered Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, cleantech, and cybersecurity.