Many people conjure up images of a fantastical future when asked to describe a world with autonomous trucks. This is a future of redesigned trucks without driver or passenger cabs, where human interactions with the truck are considerably reduced or deemed irrelevant.
However, before we get to that point in the autonomous revolution, the world will remain manual or non-autonomous in most ways. Therefore, autonomous trucks need to seamlessly interact with a non-autonomous world rather than expect the world to adjust its transportation ecosystem to accommodate autonomous vehicles. This need is especially acute for autonomous trucks as one of the first forms of transportation to achieve Level 4 (L4) autonomy.
There are many examples of challenges that autonomous trucks must face when dealing with the non-autonomous world. One example is a weight based toll road. A weight based toll road assesses a fee based on the weight of the vehicle, which varies based on the weight of the goods being transported. Weight based toll roads are a significant challenge for autonomous trucks. This is due to the multiple points of human interaction needed for a truck to be processed in the toll lanes. As an example, the process for positioning a truck on a vehicle scale requires a driver to follow manual directions given by toll road staff. Paying the toll fee also requires the driver to move to a pay station by following signs or hand signals.
At TuSimple, we recognized that these simple human-to-human interactions for weighing and paying tolls would be a challenge for our L4 vehicle’s coast-to-coast operations at scale on our Autonomous Freight Network (AFN). Rather than fight the status quo, we decided to engineer our trucks to satisfy the needs of paying a toll in the current non-autonomous weight based toll road system. We started working on this problem a few years ago and were recently awarded another patent in June 2021, namely US Patent No. 11,029,696 titled “Method, System, and Related Device of Implementing Vehicle Automatically Weighing.”
This patent describes a wide array of technical solutions and workflows for how an autonomous truck can interact with a weight based toll road facility without a human driver. These technical solutions describe how the autonomous truck automatically moves from place to place so that it can be weighed. Beyond truck movement, these technical solutions describe how the weight information is coordinated with financial payment information to complete the toll payment automatically. An interesting part of this automation is in having the autonomous truck achieve a specific order of operations so no human intervention is required. For example, weighing starts only after determining that the autonomous truck has come to a full stop in the scale. Also, the toll road facility can flash a code to the autonomous truck’s on-board cameras to trigger automated toll payment. Of course, these are just examples and there are more features and workflows described in the patent itself.
The award of this patent demonstrates how TuSimple is ahead of the curve and is a leader in defining innovative ways to further automate our AFN operations at scale.
Moving beyond this patent, we are proud of the 38 patents awarded to us during the second quarter of 2021. This represents another quarter of double-digit sequential growth. These 38 patents describe solutions to various problems ranging from counteracting dangerous autonomous vehicle maneuvers to rear-facing sensing systems. Our teams continue to inspire new and innovative ways for identifying and solving complex problems to prepare for the rapid growth of our AFN operations once our production grade commercial vehicles are delivered. We are excited by the promise of our seamless autonomous operations that will thrive in this non-autonomous world.