Autonomous truck startup TuSimple hits unicorn status in latest round



Another autonomous vehicle unicorn has joined the herd.

TuSimple, a self-driving truck startup running daily routes for clients in Arizona, has increased $95 million in a Series D financing round led by Sina Corp. as the firm prepares to scale its industrial autonomous fleet to over 50 trucks by June.

The startup, which launched in 2015 and has operations in San Diego and Tucson, Arizona, includes a post-money of $1.095 billion (aka unicorn standing ). TuSimple has increased $178 million so far in rounds that have comprised backers like Nvidia and ZP Capital.  Sina, operator of China’s biggest microblogging site Weibo, is just one of TuSimple’s most early investors. Composite Capital, a Hong Kong-based investment firm and past investor, also participated in this latest round.

TuSimple launched when the burgeoning AV ecosystem of shareholders flipped entrepreneurs, and ancient tech leaders, were focused on the growth of passenger vehicles, specifically robotaxis.

Autonomous trucking existed in relative obscurity until high-profile engineers from Google launched Otto, a self-driving truck startup that was quickly acquired by Uber at August 2016. Then came the show of the Tesla Semi along with the founding of several autonomous trucking startups such as Starsky Robotics along with Embark.

It seemed people had woken up to the economic opportunity that could be achieved — just perhaps — together trucks.

Meanwhile, TuSimple quietly scaled.  In overdue 2017, TuSimple increased $55 million with programs to utilize those resources to scale up testing to two full truck fleets from China along with the U.S. By 2018, TuSimple began testing on public streets, starting with a 120-mile street stretch between Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona and another section in Shanghai.

“Autonomous driving is just one of the most intricate AI systems people have ever constructed. After three decades of intense attention we have moved past research into the work of building a commercial solution,” TuSimple founder, president and CTO Xiaodi Hou stated.

Now, TuSimple is currently now taking three to five fully autonomous trips per day for clients on three routes in Arizona. Each one these trips have two safety engineers also also another observation the data pouring in during each excursion. TuSimple states these daily trips allow revenue to be earned by it while it validates its Level 4 autonomous strategy, a designation by SAE that signifies the automobile takes over all the driving in problems.  TuSimple has 12 contracted clients.

Now, it’s ready to creep up in terms of its fleet size and partnerships. TuSimple intends to expand its fully-autonomous deliveries to Texas. The company also intends to utilize this influx of capital to fund what it describes as “joint production programs that are critical ” together with OEM, Tier 1 suppliers and partners. Truck manufacturing suppliers are working with TuSimple on the integration of software with powertrain, braking and steering systems. The company states that this is “an essential step for the production and operation of both self-driving trucks. ”

TuSimple isn’t disclosing its clients or even suppliers yet. Though, TuSimple did show last month at CES that it’s working with Tier 1 provider Cummins Inc. to allow powertrain integration using its autonomous technology.

TuSimple’s focus on cameras

Other AV providers, namely low-speed autonomous passenger vehicles have focused on LiDAR (light detection and including lasers) to enhance the understanding of the vehicle, arguably one of the toughest tasks of automatic driving. But for TuSimple, “laser isn’t the sauce. ”

Instead, TuSimple has developed a perception solution.  The company does use LiDAR for a number of data collection and its mapping. But, LiDAR has its own limitations from trucking’s world, Hou explained to TechCrunch at a prior interview.

Even its name, which can be an interlingual pun that essentially means picture ” or simple picture analysis, supports TuSimple’s approach.

It seems that’s paid off.  Although the quality falters past 150 meters liDAR can discover objects such as cars to about 250 meters. TuSimple maintains its camera-based system has a vision assortment of 1,000 meters.

As a reluctant participant at AV demos, this TechCrunch reporter headed to TuSimple’therefore Tucson operations armed with a lot of curiosity and a healthy dose of skepticism.

Even the TuSimple truck, two safety engineers at front, along with Hou and myself at the rear of the taxi, entered into autonomous style in the company parking lot since it approached a surface street. Out of here, the truck drove the manner for the whole so or 65-mile excursion. This path started onto a surface street, then onto an unprotected left onto the street at an entry, a railway crossing, and finally a traffic light. Before exiting the interstate, then maneuvering straight onto the street from the trip back, the truck lasted .

A screen in the taxi let us to see what the truck saw, or even more specifically what the program finds. TuSimple’s camera combined with software calculations enables the system comparative speed and comes with and vehicle type of the objects spotted while on the street.

The result, at least with this demonstration, was a ride along in an autonomous truck that was able to achieve numerous complicated tasks, such as anticipating congestion ahead and creating a lane change at a smooth, uninterrupted movement — no disk braking required.

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