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Self-driving Truck Startup TuSimple Launching ‘Autonomous Vehicle Operations Specialist Program' with Local College

Self-driving Truck Startup TuSimple Launching ‘Autonomous Vehicle Operations Specialist Program' with Local College

Author: Eric Walz   

While self-driving truck startup TuSimple is busy developing a fleet of fully-autonomous semi-trucks, the company expects that there will be a shortage or highly-skilled human truck drivers to oversee and operate them.

As TuSimple grows its autonomous truck fleet, the company needs drivers who understand how they work and can oversee the self-driving trucks' computer systems. The operation of a self-driving truck is a newly created job and right now there are few drivers who can actually do it without additional training.

To address this need, TuSimple and Pima Community College in Tuscon, Arizona announced the first ever autonomous driving certificate program that will train drivers to oversee and operate autonomous trucks in certain situations.

The "Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist" certificate program will teach truck drivers how to operate and work with autonomous trucks in as quickly as one semester.

The certificate will prepare individuals for jobs at Arizona-based TuSimple, including training the autonomous system as test drivers, operating the vehicle in situations where autonomous driving is not suitable and remotely monitor trucks' operation from a command center.

"It's clear that the future of truck transportation will offer new employment opportunities for today's drivers but it will require a set of new skills," stated Lee Lambert, Chancellor, Pima Community College. "Working with TuSimple to develop this Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist certificate program ensures our students will build competencies in multiple areas – from logistics and information technology to automated industrial technology. These areas are being transformed by autonomy and drivers will need training in order to interact with autonomous trucks."

TuSimple is entering an industry that already has a shortage of drivers and right now, driving a truck is not considered a high tech job. The company says it recognizes that autonomous technology creates additional jobs and wants to be a catalyst in providing access to new job opportunities in the transportation industry.

TuSimple is looking for more experienced drivers to train on their autonomous trucks. One prerequisite is that those who enroll are required to have a valid Class A Commercial Driver's License (CDL). The truck drivers will build upon their trucking knowledge and on-the-road experience with each course.

The certificate program is comprises of five classes. Courses include Introduction to Autonomous Vehicles, Industrial Safety, Computer Hardware Components, Electrical Systems, and Transportation and Traffic Management.

TuSimple said it will prioritize hiring graduates of the certificate program for jobs at its Tucson, AZ testing and development center.

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Pima Community College and TuSimple representatives with TuSimple's self-driving truck (right) at the company's testing & development center in Tucson, AZ.

High-Tech Training for Truck Drivers

There are some concerns in society that computers and AI will eventually take jobs away from humans. However, the Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist program will equip truck drivers with the knowledge and skills to expand their roles in the new and rapidly growing field of autonomous driving.

"It's clear that the future of truck transportation will offer new employment opportunities for today's drivers but it will require a set of new skills," stated Lee Lambert, Chancellor, Pima Community College. "Working with TuSimple to develop this Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist certificate program ensures our students will build competencies in multiple areas – from logistics and information technology to automated industrial technology. These areas are being transformed by autonomy and drivers will need training in order to interact with autonomous trucks."

The program will be offered at Pima Community College in Tucson, AZ, which is near TuSimple's Arizona headquarters, beginning in Sept 2019.

Once launched, Pima Community College and TuSimple will collaborate with other schools interested in offering the same program.

"In keeping with TuSimple's mission to create the safest autonomous driving fleet, an essential aspect of the training program is to ensure that drivers have access to appropriate training for this new technology and employment opportunities," stated Dr. Xiaodi Hou, Founder, President and Chief Technology Officer, TuSimple.

Hou added, "We commend Pima Community College for offering this innovative and exciting program that can help address the acute driver shortage. The program offers driving professionals a smooth transition into an emerging field that requires different skill sets in addition to existing truck driving knowledge by providing training."

The trucking industry is currently facing a significant driver shortage. According to the American Trucking Association (ATA) it could reach 175,000 by 2024. Experts say it is difficult to attract young people into the profession and many drivers are not staying in the field. The trucking industry is approaching a 100 percent turnover rate per year.

TuSimple might even make driving or overseeing an autonomous truck a coveted job in the future. Outfitting a truck with a suite of advanced hardware and sensors will to take some of the burden off of drivers, making the job less-demanding, as well as much safer.

For example, TuSimple's autonomous trucks have cameras and other sensors that eliminate blind spots, offering a complete 360 degree view of the road for safer operation. In addition, long range cameras, ultrasonic sensors and lidar provides a detailed view of the road ahead regardless of the weather.

Other features such automatically keeping the truck centered in the highway lane, and automated cruise control with take some physical driving demands away from the human driver and give it to a computer.

Most recently, TuSimple collaborated with the United States Postal Service (USPS) on a two-week pilot program delivering mail between Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas USPS distribution centers.

Since launching in 2015, TuSimple has made significant progress in bringing the first driverless trucks to market. The partnership with Prima Community College will help ensure that TuSimple has the highly-trained operators it needs to oversee their operation.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally from New Jersey, Eric is an automotive and technology reporter specializing in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. Eric has over fifteen years of automotive experience and a B.A. in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the automotive industry and beyond. He has worked on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology. Outside of work, Eric likes to travel to new places, play guitar, and explore the outdoors.
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