The age of self-driving 18-wheelers traveling on U.S. highways may be much closer than many people realize, and North Texas is emerging as the likely location of a major hub for the trucks.
One company that is aggressively working to build a nationwide freight network of driverless trucks is TuSimple, which has offices in Beijing and San Diego. TuSimple recently announced plans to build a hub for its autonomous trucks at Fort Worth's AllianceTexas development.
The trucks use cameras and sensors that provide vast amounts of data, so the vehicle's computer software knows what's happening up to 3,000 feet up the road, and can react to emergencies 10 times faster than a typical human.
For now, TuMobile is operating the self-driving trucks with a safety operator in the driver seat who can take the controls if needed, and a test engineer in the passenger seat to monitor the on-board cyber system. But the company plans to begin operating its trucks with no human in the cab possibly as early as next year on selected routes — including routes in Texas.
Are self-driving trucks legal?
Driverless cars are already legal on Texas roads. In 2017, the state Legislature passed a law authored by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, that allows automated motor vehicles to use Texas highways, as long as the vehicles are insured and equipped with video recording equipment.
TuSimple is already running self-driving trucks from Arizona to West Texas, and the new Fort Worth hub will help the company extend its network to Austin, San Antonio and Houston. The company aims to have its nationwide network in place by 2023.
The company will be building its Fort Worth logistics hub on Eagle Parkway, inside the so-called Mobility Innovation Zone near Alliance Airport. The zone was created last year as a place for shipping companies to test, scale and commercialize their latest technologies.
Bell, BNSF and Deloitte are among the companies doing work in the zone, which provides easy access to Interstate 35W and other highways, the BNSF Intermodal Yard and the aviation hub at Alliance Airport.
TuSimple also is backed by UPS, another shipping company with a ground hub at AllianceTexas.