China’s second largest logistics company, SF Express, has partnered with U.S. self-driving truck company Plus to develop China’s first commercial freight pilot program using supervised autonomous trucks, the companies announced March 25.
SF Express owns and operates a fleet of 43,000 trucks and covers more than 100,000 routes. It chose Plus for its autonomous driving system, PlusDrive, which is designed to keep a professional truck operator within a vehicle to supervise it. This approach can help SF Express improve its current fleet without waiting years for full driverless trucks to be ready.
“The logistics industry around the world is undergoing a sea change driven by the explosive growth of e-commerce and demand for faster deliveries. We developed PlusDrive to address the critical business issues fleets are facing today—keeping their drivers happy and productive, reducing operating costs, and meeting sustainability goals,” Shawn Kerrigan, chief operating officer and co-founder of Plus, said in a statement. “Opportunities to pilot our system with world-class fleets like SF Express enable us to demonstrate the safety, reliability and maturity of PlusDrive. We are excited to start mass production in just a few short months and to deliver this truly transformational technology to fleets.”
As part of the program, which started in December with fleet operator Zhihong Logistics, Plus is running its supervised autonomous trucks on two long-haul routes—a 900-mile round-trip journey between Wuhan to Wuxi, and the 1,000-mile round-trip route between Changshu to Wuhan. Both routes take two to three days to complete, and were chosen to display the full potential of Plus’ autonomous driving system to improve safety, reduce fuel costs, enhance driver comfort and lower carbon emissions.
Since the start of the pilot program, Plus’ supervised autonomous trucks have operated more than 62,000 miles with zero safety-related disengagements — the human drivers never disengaged the self-driving systems to manually take control. So far the data suggests using the trucks has led to 20 percent fuel savings, and the operators have reported improved peace of mind and enhanced comfort.
Plus noted it will mass-produce PlusDrive starting this summer, and that other companies it conducted pilot programs with have preordered more than 10,000 PlusDrive units.