UPS Venture Arm Eyes Autonomous Trucks

United Parcel Service Inc. is getting a minority stake in self-driving truck company TuSimple and facilitating test runs with the startup.

The undisclosed investment is part of an initiative to get it what it would take to create a completely autonomous truck, said Todd Lewis, who runs UPS Ventures. Creating a computer-driven truck requires progress in areas such as assisted braking and lane-change warnings that also can be utilized in conventional vehicles, he stated.

That aim to invest in technologies that serve present needs reflects a change at UPS Ventures, which was established in 1997 as the Strategic Enterprise Fund. The $150 million fund was revamped and renamed when Scott Price, a previous Walmart Inc. official, was contracted in December last year as the chief transformation officer of the courier. 

“We’ve shifted gears into a capability-driven model,” Lewis stated. “Not only are we looking to form deeper relationships with our investments, but we’re also equally looking to give them real-life problems to solve and have a real environment to test and scale into.” 

The freight-forwarding venture of UPS is giving cargo for hauling between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, on trucks guided by TuSimple’s autonomous framework. A driver and an engineer are also on board. The startup, esteemed at approximately $1 billion in a $95 million funding round in February, transported U.S. Postal Service trailers between Dallas and Phoenix in May.

UPS Ventures has shares in 22 companies in areas such as robotics, 3D printing, blockchain, and artificial intelligence and desires to increase that number, Lewis stated.