Arizona’s roads are about to get busier—and robot-ier.
The Grand Canyon State will soon play host to self-driving experiments performed by Chinese company TuSimple, which plans to begin testing its fleet there in 2018. For now, the foreign company has opened an office in Tucson to prepare for the trials.
The move puts China on track to compete directly with the spate of American companies currently working on the technology, including Tesla, Google spinoff Waymo, Uber, Ford, and General Motors.
And they seem to be in it for the long haul. The company plans on hiring between 10 and 30 employees at its Tucson operation, and hopes to scale up to 100 workers over the next 5 years, according to a report by Arizona Public Media.
All told, TuSimple could be a major economic driver for the area, bringing in an estimated $81 million over that 5-year period, the report states.
The Asian company is also literally in the long-haul business, specializing in self-driving trucks. It’s hoping to test its big-rig models down long stretches of Arizona’s I-10 corridor.
TuSimple may be new to the area, but it’s been on the self-driving industry’s radar for some time. The company has reportedly already reached level 4 autonomy in its vehicles, and last month, it received a $20 million boost from Sina, the Chinese conglomerate behind the powerful microchip producer Nvidia.
Chinese efforts to push into the autonomous vehicle race are also on the rise generally. The country’s leading search engine company, Baidu, has recently taken a page out of Google’s book, working on platforms for the technology and partnering with top Chinese carmaker Chery Automobile to start producing self-driving prototypes. The search engine giant has also moved in on Silicon Valley, opening an office there that’s expected to take on 150 employees.
For now, it seems the self-driving race has gone international—and a challenger has come for America’s long-enjoyed lead.