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US Postal Service Tests Self-Driving Trucks to Move Mail

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The United States Postal Service, or USPS has begun tests with self-driving trucks to transport mail.

The Postal Service is partnering with a California based company, called TuSimple, on the project. The tests are being carried out over two weeks.

Two of TuSimple's self-driving trucks will transport mail between the southwestern cities of Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas. The trucks will make five round trips between the cities. Each one will cover a distance of about 3,300 kilometers.

The testing is aimed at seeing whether the self-driving technology can reduce transportation times and costs and improve road safety. If successful, the Postal Service could deploy the trucks permanently to move mail between major U.S. population centers.

"The work with TuSimple is our first initiative in autonomous long-haul transportation," said Postal Service official Kim Frum. She told the Reuters news agency the project is part of USPS efforts "to operate a future class of vehicles" using the latest technologies.

TuSimple said a human "safety driver" will be sitting in the driver's seat at all times during the trips to intervene if necessary. An engineer will ride in the passenger seat as an observer and to take notes.

The trucks will travel on major interstate roads that pass through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

TuSimple noted on its website the trucks are equipped with a camera system that sees about 1,000 meters down the road. It said this provides 35 seconds of reaction time, giving the system enough time "to make the safest and most efficient driving decisions."

The California company and the USPS have yet to talk about the cost of the program, but Frum said no tax dollars were used. The Postal Service pays for its operating costs through sales of postage stamps and other products.

One of the main goals of the technology is to remove the need for truck drivers.

Chuck Price is TuSimple's chief product officer. Price told Reuters he thinks the testing project is a good example of the way autonomous trucks will be used in the future. "These long runs are beyond the range of a single human driver, which means today if they do this run they have to figure out how to cover it with multiple drivers in the vehicle," he said.

Transportation experts say the United States is currently facing a shortage of truck drivers. The American Trucking Associations estimates there will be a shortage of as many as 174,500 drivers by the year 2024. The group says this will result from an aging workforce and the difficulty getting younger people to work as truck drivers.

Price said self-driving trucks built to transport goods have some advantages over driverless cars. They generally operate on interstates that do not have the complex traffic systems found in cities. This will reduce mapping requirements for the trucks and lower safety risks involving people walking on streets or riding bicycles, Price said.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the Associated Press and Reuters. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

round trip n. a trip to one or more places and back again

initiative n. plan or activity that is done to solve a problem or improve a situation

interstate n. a fast wide road that stretch between states and connects important cities in the United States

efficient adj. working well and not wasting time or energy

beyond - adv. in addition; adj. - at a greater distance than

multipleadj. of or including more than one; many

advantage n. something good about a situation that can help a person succeed

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