Above the Fold: Supply Chain Logistics News (December 8, 2023)

One of my back muscles, for no reason whatsoever, decided to start spasming last night when I got into bed. Poking, poking, poking me awake whenever I started to fall asleep.

It won. I didn’t sleep.

So, while I still have the energy, here’s the supply chain and logistics news that caught my attention this week:

Autonomous Trucks: A Step Forward, A Step Backwards

Let’s start with the step forward.

Uber Freight announced a new partnership with Torc Robotics, an autonomous trucking company and independent subsidiary of Daimler Truck AG. This adds to Uber Freight’s existing partnerships with other autonomous truck companies, including Aurora, Volvo Autonomous Solutions, and Waabi. Here are some excerpts from the press release:

Through this partnership, Torc will tap directly into Uber Freight’s network [representing $18 billion in active Freight Under Management (FUM) and over 100,000 digitally-enabled carriers] to accelerate the development of autonomous trucks, exploring insights including, but not limited to, which lanes are optimal for deployment, how to prioritize the rollout of lanes and various operational design domains, balancing supply and demand across supply chains with autonomous trucks, where to build transfer hubs to minimize local haul costs, and more.

To deploy these innovative assets at scale and achieve a successful autonomous future, continued strategic collaboration with all players across the industry is necessary. In addition to this partnership, Uber Freight is a longstanding member of the Torc Autonomous Advisory Council (TAAC), a council comprised of key freight industry players who provide strategic guidance to Torc. This includes Schneider, C.R. England, Penske, Ryder and other industry leaders, as well as Torc’s majority stakeholder, Daimler Truck AG.

And now the step backward.

“When TuSimple went public in 2021 it was flying high as the leading self-driving trucks developer in the United States,” reports Kirsten Korosec in TechCrunch. “Now — after a string of internal controversies and the loss of a critical partnership with truck manufacturer Navistar — TuSimple is exiting the U.S. altogether.” Here are some excerpts from the article:

The publicly traded company said in a regulatory filing Monday that it’s laying off the majority of its U.S. workforce and selling assets here as it exits the country for Asia. About 150 U.S. workers, or 75% of staff in the country, will be laid off. The remaining 50 workers will wind down TuSimple’s U.S. operations, including the sale of assets, and assist with the company’s shift to the Asia-Pacific region, according to the filing.

With TuSimple’s exit, few self-driving truck companies remain, including Aurora and Kodiak Robotics.

The adoption of autonomous trucks to date (as with drones and delivery robots) has not been as fast and broad as some had predicted, but progress continues to be made. Back in September 2023, for example, Tyson Foods announced that it was deploying autonomous refrigerated box trucks to deliver products to its distribution and storage facilities in Arkansas. Others are testing autonomous trucks in similar use cases (that is, in relatively limited, fixed-route deployments).

In short, although driverless trucks are not crowding the roads at the moment, they’re playing a role in select situations, nonetheless. I believe the steps forward are outpacing the steps backwards, but there’s a lot more learning, innovation, and regulatory work required to reach the promised land.

For related commentary, please see “Drones Or Driverless Trucks: Which Will Deliver Most Business Benefits First?” 

And with that, have a happy weekend!

Song of the Week: “Who Needs Sleep?” by Barenaked Ladies