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Startups

Chinese self-driving, refrigerated truck travels across US

Level-4 autonomous vehicle delivers 18 tons of California butter to Pennsylvania

PlusAI completed a coast-to-coast test run of a level-4 self-driving truck in the U.S., taking a step toward commercialization of its technology. (Photo courtesy of PlusAI)

BEIJING -- A self-driving truck developed by PlusAI, a Chinese startup specializing in self-driving technology for large trucks, succeeded this month in traveling from the U.S. West Coast to the East Coast.

The truck carried about 18 tons of butter made by Land O'Lakes, the country's biggest dairy cooperative, over a distance of about 4,500 km.

According to PlusAI, the delivery from Tulare, California, to Quakertown, Pennsylvania, was the first-ever coast-to-coast trip by a level 4 self-driving truck pulling a refrigerated trailer loaded to capacity.

Established in Silicon Valley in 2016, PlusAI currently operates research and development centers in Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou. It has built strategic partnerships with leading Chinese and American companies in truck manufacturing, logistics and fleet operations. Last year, the company raised series A funding from Sequoia Capital China, Manbang Group and GSR Ventures.

The truck's self-driving system includes multimodal sensors, a visual algorithm for deep learning and simultaneous localization and mapping, or SLAM, technology. A driver to take over steering in potential emergencies and an engineer to monitor the system were aboard during the trip.

The test was conducted as a step toward commercializing the system. The biggest hurdle was being able to steer through actual driving environments -- complex geographical features, changes in weather -- well enough to arrive at the destination on time. According to PlusAI documents, the truck had to travel across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, at elevations of up to 3,353 meters above sea level, on roads under construction and through a several-miles-long tunnel. It also had to endure rain, snow and other weather challenges.

PlusAI's refrigerated hauler was not the first loaded self-driving truck to successfully pull off a test run ahead of commercialization.

TuSimple, another industry leader, in September announced it had been conducting almost daily test drives between the Arizona cities of Phoenix and Tucson, working with United Parcel Service, a delivery and logistics company. It also said that in a tie-up with the United States Postal Service it has tested self-driving vehicles that operated 22 hours a day over a distance of about 1,600 km between Phoenix and Dallas, Texas.

The company said it has signed up 18 U.S. partners.

36Kr, a Chinese tech news portal founded in Beijing in 2010, has more than 150 million readers worldwide. Nikkei announced a partnership with 36Kr on May 22, 2019.

For the Japanese version of this story, click here.

For the Chinese version, click here.

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