US college launches autonomous vehicle driving certificate programme

5 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJuly 23, 2019

Pima Community College and self-driving truck company TuSimple have launched the first autonomous driving certificate programme for truck drivers. The Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist programme will equip truck drivers with the knowledge and skills to expand their roles in this new and rapidly expanding industry. The certificate will prepare individuals for jobs such as training the autonomous system as test drivers, operating the vehicle in situations where autonomous driving is not suitable, and to remotely monitor the system from a command centre.

The Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist certificate programme will teach experienced truck drivers how to operate and work with autonomous trucks in as quickly as one semester. The programme requires a Class A Commercial Driver‘s License (CDL) prior to enrolment, as drivers will build on their trucking knowledge with each course.

TuSimple and Pima Community College have co-created a curriculum for the certificate programme that comprises five classes. The courses are: Introduction to Autonomous Vehicles; Industrial Safety; Computer Hardware Components; Electrical Systems I; and Transportation and Traffic Management. In conjunction with the programme, TuSimple will prioritise hiring graduates of the certificate programme for jobs at its Tucson, AZ testing and development centre.

“It‘s clear that the future of truck transportation will offer new employment opportunities for today‘s drivers but it will require a set of new skills,” stated Lee Lambert, Pima Community College chancellor. “Working with TuSimple to develop this Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist certificate programme ensures our students will build competencies in multiple areas – from logistics and information technology to automated industrial technology. These areas are being transformed by autonomy and drivers will need training in order to interact with autonomous trucks.”

The programme will be offered at Pima Community College in Tucson, AZ, starting September 2019 and registration will begin in August. Pima Community College and TuSimple will collaborate with other schools interested in offering the same programme.

“In keeping with TuSimple‘s mission to create the safest autonomous driving fleet, an essential aspect of the training programme is to ensure that drivers have access to appropriate training for this new technology and employment opportunities,” stated Dr Xiaodi Hou, TuSimple founder, president and chief technology officer. “We commend Pima Community College for offering this innovative and exciting programme that can help address the acute driver shortage. The programme offers driving professionals a smooth transition into an emerging field that requires different skill sets in addition to existing truck driving knowledge by providing training.”

This certificate programme was created along the backdrop of the US Department of Transportation‘s (DOT) study examining how the development and deployment of automated vehicle-related technology is expected to affect the transportation workforce. The first phase of the DOT study will focus on the long-haul trucking and transit bus sectors and will result in a Report to Congress, expected in the northern summer 2019. TuSimple, recognising that autonomous technology creates new jobs, wants to be a catalyst in providing talent to and access to job opportunities in the transportation industry.

The trucking industry is currently facing a significant driver shortage. According to the American Trucking Association (ATA) it could reach 175,000 by 2024. Experts say it is difficult to attract young people into the profession, the average driver age has climbed to 55 years old, and drivers aren‘t staying in the field, the industry is approaching a 100 percent turnover rate per year.

TuSimple is driven to help address the driver shortage and help improve road safety. TuSimple is the only company able to drive fully autonomously from depot-to-depot with the industry‘s most advanced self-driving perception system for trucks. Most recently, TuSimple collaborated with the United States Postal Service (USPS) on a two-week pilot programme to haul mail between Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas USPS distribution centres. The company is well on its way to achieving its goal of bringing the first driverless truck to market – creating a safer, cleaner and more efficient trucking industry.