Going the Distance with our Advanced Fueling Options

By TuSimple's editorial team
Jan 12


At TuSimple, we design our autonomous semi-trucks to meet very high standards. We obsess over how we can make our vehicles safer, more reliable, and more efficient. We believe that TuSimple’s leadership in the current automotive technology revolution is driven by our commitment to challenging ourselves to innovate and produce new technologies.

As we envision the future of trucking, we must address specific pain points for how our technology will fit within the existing freight ecosystem. One of the clear areas we must address is fueling. Our semi-trucks will be equipped with 200 gallon tanks capable of going up to 1,500 miles. This enables us to go coast to coast in under 40 hours while stopping only once to refuel. However, without a human truck driver at the wheel, we have to prepare for every situation, especially on long-haul cross country runs that will require refueling. Therefore, an autonomous semi-truck needs to be able to determine when, where and how to refuel.

We understand that flexible fueling options will be necessary for the effective operation of our Autonomous Freight Network (AFN). This is because the fuel efficiency of a truck varies based upon specific factors such as the load it is hauling, the condition of the underlying road, the amount of traffic on that road, the weather conditions, and the amount of fuel already in the tank. There can also be variations depending on the truck’s associated network. For example, the location of refueling stations, whether the refueling station has enough fuel for the truck, and the distance of the refueling stations from the truck. Consider the Colonial Pipeline cyber attack in the Summer of 2021 that resulted in a sudden fuel shortage across the eastern half of the United States. It is not uncommon for fueling stations to run dry shortly following emergency declarations. Knowing the availability of fueling options will assist our semi-truck in re-routing if the originally-planned fueling options do not have sufficient fuel and ultimately completing its mission successfully.

Nationwide-based freight delivery operations are already complicated when a human truck driver is at the wheel to deal with issues during deliveries. These operations are made even more complex on our AFN, which currently covers approximately 10,000 miles and is expected to eventually encompass most of the 47,000 mile U.S. interstate highway system. We need effective and scalable autonomous fueling solutions that rely on hard predictive data, rather than the judgment of a human truck driver at the wheel.

As we get closer to removing the driver across our AFN, we must solve every situation that the semi-truck will encounter while on the road. Addressing the fueling issue in emergency or extraordinary circumstances is an opportunity to extend our leadership in developing robust, data-driven technologies. One of our solutions to this problem was recently awarded US Patent No. 11,084,709 titled “Method, Device, and System for Automatically Fueling [a] Vehicle.” This patent describes a dynamic refueling solution based on an autonomous truck’s real-time use case and performance. For example, each autonomous truck includes an on-board computer that actively monitors its fuel consumption to determine its refueling needs based on objective measurements and calculations that are more precise and scalable than the subjective personal judgments of a human truck driver. Then, in response to determining that it is time to refuel, the on-board computer will interact with the network of refueling stations to determine which one is the most appropriate location for the autonomous truck to travel to for refueling. Each of these determinations is made in consideration of the autonomous truck’s individual use case and performance. The autonomous truck will then route to the selected refueling station. This data-driven technology allows our trucks to deliver greater cost savings and convenience to our customers.

We are proud of the 39 new patents awarded to TuSimple during the third quarter of 2021. The period represents another quarter of double-digit sequential growth in our patent portfolio, bringing our total patents to 357. These 39 patents describe solutions to various problems ranging from on-board sensor cleaning systems, so our sensors can operate effectively for extended on-road deployments and in adverse weather conditions, to emergency braking systems, for safer operations in complex real-world environments. Through the identification, analysis and solving of these problems, we are able to hold ourselves to standards high enough to deliver safe, reliable, and efficient operations on our AFN. We are excited to revolutionize the freight industry by bringing these technologies to market.

Posted by TuSimple

Recent Blog Posts