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TuSimple, property developer team up to boost autonomous trucking in Texas

Mobility Innovation Zone adopts startup’s specifications for driverless trucking

TuSimple is working with Hillwood Properties in Texas to prepare for autonomous trucking operations. (Photo: TuSimple)

The roads are mostly mapped for TuSimple to drive autonomously in Texas. Now it is up to commercial property developers to get ready for driverless trucks to come and go from warehouses.

Hillwood Investment Properties, one of the largest commercial real estate developers in the country, is taking suggestions from TuSimple Holdings (NASDAQ: TSP) on how to incorporate the needs of autonomous trucks into current and future facilities.

“If you develop a warehouse that has the right setup, like a separate entrance for autonomy, an area where you can put a launching pad and a landing pad for autonomous trucks, this is where the design of these warehouses are to be TuSimple Autonomous Freight Network-enabled,” TuSimple CEO Cheng Lu told FreightWaves.

Serving driverless trucks

Hillwood expects to be able to host autonomous trucking operations at a 1 million-square-foot facility within the 27,000-square-acre AllianceTexas Mobility Innovation Zone off Interstate 35 near Fort Worth Alliance Airport. When completed in 2024, the facility is intended to serve Level 4 high-autonomy trucks with no humans in the cab.

Read now: Getting commercial real estate ready for autonomous trucks

AllianceTexas customers include UPS, an autonomous freight customer of TuSimple, and DHL, which recently partnered with TuSimple. Other autonomous trucking startups testing vehicles in Texas have facilities in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

As the leader in commercialization among autonomous trucking startups, TuSimple is trying to make sure its driverless trucks are welcome in shipping yards and at customer facilities. It plans to launch a driverless Navistar International LT Class 8 truck for fleets in 2024. It has about 7,000 nonbinding reservations for the trucks.

“We partnered with TuSimple to provide the guidance and technical parameters required to prepare this new facility for the rapid adoption and expansion of autonomous trucking operations throughout the region and beyond,” Ross Perot Jr., Hillwood chairman, said in a press release.

‘Automate as much as we can’

In addition to a separate entrance for autonomous trucks, Lu said the facility would include an area large enough to allow robot-driven trucks to be led by sensors to stopping and starting pads for pre- and post-trip inspections.

TuSimple’s Autonomous Freight Network, which runs from Tucson, Arizona, to Florida and North Carolina, will use Ryder System Inc. (NYSE: R) facilities for autonomous truck maintenance. Having properly equipped terminals includes making the shipping yard more efficient for automated drop-and-hook and other trailer shifting operations.

“Our goal is to automate as much as we can,” Lu said. “The point is enabling future skilled self-driving trucks. We’re just starting off, but that’s the vision.”

He compared the future of warehousing to a commercial building that installs an electric vehicle charger today. That property is more desirable than one without such infrastructure.

“People who develop warehouses today don’t think about how to make self-driving trucks work,” Lu said. “We’ve been so far ahead in terms of development and so focused on bringing to market a commercially viable solution, [and] part of that is the infrastructure.

“Our hope is that this becomes a standard, that Hillwood develops properties that have this layout and customers that rent these facilities find it attractive because they know they want to have a facility that makes it easier to start-and-stop autonomous operations.”

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.