Exclusive: Amazon in Talks to Acquire China’s Robo-trucking Unicorn TuSimple
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TuSimple's autonomous truck. PHOTO: Credit to TuSimple

May 7, 2019 /EqualOcean/- Amazon has held talks to acquire China’s autonomous trucking company TuSimple (图森未来), according to people familiar with the matter, Chinese tech media TMT Post reports today.

TuSimple has completed its USD 95 million of Series D funding at the end of 2018, led by Chinese technology and media firm Sina Corp. This investment pushed up the company’s valuation to USD 1 billion.

The firm’s CEO CHEN Mo (陈默) claimed that TuSimple started a new round of funding in North America and had talks with several strategic investors. However, the deal is only in the very early stage.

“We don’t accept being acquired, ” CHEN replied to the inquiry from the media. We contacted one of TuSimple executives and got the same response.

Amazon has never hidden its ambitions on future mobility. It has long been focusing on solving the last-mile delivery problem but stayed out of the driverless race, changed strategies.

Feb 7, the e-commerce giant invested in self-driving car startup Aurora Innovation run by former Google and Tesla executives. Sequoia Capital led the USD 530 million deal. Two weeks later, Amazon invested USD 700 million in Tesla competitor Rivian.

For Amazon which has a steady cash flow, this kind of small investment is a good way to enlarge its bet on autonomous driving without the high cost of in-house R&D. Over time, the Rivian and Aurora investment will set a starting point for Amazon to own the opportunities in competing with Alphabet and operating its package delivery business.

Founded in 2015,TuSimple is headquartered in Beijing and has an R&D center in San Diego. TuSimple has a deep relationship with NVIDIA and Sina, which participated in its fundraising for two times and three times, respectively.

The company deploys a different technology routine with Alphabet’s Waymo. Waymo always emphasizes the importance of Lidar while TuSimple counts more on camera-based sensors.

The company found a greater reliance on high-definition camera than Lidar under extreme circumstances and trained perception system to identify objects properly, according to its CTO HOU Xiaodi (侯晓迪).

Leveraging its computer vision, deep learning, and other cutting-edge AI tech, the company plans to increase its fully autonomous trucks to 40, up from 11 in Jan, as it announced in CES 2019.

TuSimple is now running up three to five commercial trips a day on three different routes in Arizona, serving 12 contracted clients. An additional route from Arizona to Texas will be launched in early 2019.

TuSimple runs daily fully-autonomous commercial routes from depot-to-depot, which requires both highway and local street driving now. Local street driving is less straight-forward than high way driving, a circumstance approximate to certain circumstances under Level 4 (SAE) that means the vehicle takes over all of the driving in certain conditions.

The company has launched its latest proprietary automotive-grade camera and vision system that will go into mass production in Q2 2019 and will be deployed on TuSimple's autonomous customer fleet by Q3 2019.

Logistics, especially artery trucking, are thought to be one of the ideal scenarios that autonomous cars can have an impact on.

We took a look at a load of autonomous car startups in China and talked about China’s driverless car race backlash but we only included those who focus on passenger cars in the article.

We also worry autonomous driving startups’ lack of a clear path to commercialization will lead companies into merging talks or cutting programs.

When we look at TuSimple’s strategies of fleets and mass production, we don’t yet know for sure whether these moves generate enough money to support tech research and company development, but at least we know the firm is already heading into the way of commercialization. 

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