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Supply Chain News: Wall Street Journal Article Raises Questions about Safety for TuSimple Driverless Truck Technology


Accident in April Partly Led to On-Going FMSCA Review

Aug. 1, 2022

Autonomous trucks seemed to at last be gaining some momentum.


In late December, for example, San Diego-based autonomous technology company TuSimple said it made the first fully automated freight haul without a human.

Surpply Chain Digest Says...


The experts said the truck should not respond to commands that are even a couple hundredths of a second old, and that the system should never allow a truck to turn sharply while traveling at 65 miles an hour.

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TuSimple said the drive took place in the Phoenix metro area on Dec. 22 and lasted 80 miles on surface streets and highways at night. The drive originated at a railyard near Tucson and terminated at a distribution center in Phoenix. TuSimple performed the test in collaboration with the Arizona Department of Transportation and law enforcement.

But just a few months later, a problem, not reported by the company until a filing to the government in June. On April 6, an autonomously driven truck fitted with TuSimple’s technology suddenly veered left, cut across the I-10 highway in Tucson, and then slammed into a concrete barricade.

As reported this week by the Wall Street Journal, the incident generated concerns that TuSimple “is risking safety on public roads in a rush to deliver driverless trucks to market.”

That from the Journal after it spoke with more than a dozen former employees of the company.

In late May, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sent a letter to TuSimple informing it that the agency had launched what it described as a “safety compliance investigation” on TuSimple. The letter referenced the accident.

Later, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it is joining the DOT agency investigation into TuSimple.

The accident in April involved a truck with a TuSimple driver and engineer aboard. The Journal reports that the company has repeatedly blamed the accident on human error.

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However, the Journal says “details in the June regulatory disclosure, along with internal company documents, show what autonomous-driving-system specialists say are fundamental problems with the company’s technology.”
If true, that would be quite the negative situation for the publicly-traded TuSimple.

According to an internal TuSimple document reviewed by the Journal, the accident occurred when the semi-tractor truck abruptly veered left when a person in the cab hadn’t properly rebooted the autonomous driving system before engaging it.

That caused the system to execute an outdated command, some 2 1/2 minutes old. The command should have been erased from the system but wasn’t, according to the internal account.

The Journal reviewed its finding with autonomous technology experts at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who said blaming the trouble on human error is unfair, and that “Common safeguards would have prevented the crash had they been in place.”

For example, the experts said the truck should not respond to commands that are even a couple hundredths of a second old, and that the system should never allow a truck to turn sharply while traveling at 65 miles an hour.

“This information shows that the testing they are doing on public roads is highly unsafe,” Phil Koopman, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon who has contributed to international safety standards for autonomous vehicles, told the Jounal.

TuSimple says it has fixed its system so that humans can’t engage it unless the computer system is fully functional – but of course the idea is that there won’t be any humans in the cabin at all.

TuSimple also says the April accident has been the only one in which a company truck was responsible for an accident.
It later added on a post on its website that “We take our responsibility to find and resolve all safety issues very seriously.”

The Journal article also says that others in the autonomous truck market such as Aurora Innovation and Embark Technology haven’t started testing fully unmanned trucks on public highways because the technology hasn’t developed enough to satisfy their own safety standards.

The Journal article also says that in late 2021, a group of employees raised some safety issues with the company’s legal department, “including TuSimple’s alleged failure to check software regularly for vulnerabilities and use of unencrypted communications to manage trucks.”

In addition, John Lindland, once the company’s top safety official, said in a lawsuit filed in federal court in California in March 2021 that he was wrongfully fired after he refused to sign off on safety standards that he said the company had yet to meet.” That legal action remains in motion.

Will this news be a setback for autonomous trucks as a whole – or for TuSimple as a company?

The multi-billion dollar answer will take some years to play out.

Any thoughts on TuSimple or autonomous truck safety. Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.




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