TuSimple, Pima Community College create one-of-a-kind autonomous vehicle certificate program

Self-driving truck company TuSimple and Pima Community College announced a new autonomous driving certificate program for truck drivers.

The new program will teach experienced truck drivers how to operate and work with autonomous trucks in a 12-credit program that can be completed in as little as one semester. The program requires a Class A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) prior to enrollment, and drivers will build on their existing knowledge.

“Today is another important milestone in the transformation of Pima Community College, as well as the community of Tucson and the greater Pima County and beyond,” said Lee Lambert, chancellor of Pima Community College. “At Pima, we’re not interested in being mediocre; we’re not interested in status quo. We’re interested in major disruption that these technologies I referred to earlier are really driving in every sector of our economy.”

TuSimple and Pima Community College co-created a program curriculum comprising five classes: Introduction to Autonomous Vehicles, Industrial Safety, Computer Hardware Components, Electrical Systems I, and Transportation and Traffic Management.

TuSimple said it will prioritize hiring graduates of the program for jobs at its Tucson testing and development center.

“It’s one-of-a-kind, first of its kind — and for the whole industry,” said Robert Brown, director of public affairs for TuSimple. “We hope this is the basis for a program for other companies to use… Arizona is a Mecca for autonomous vehicles, and we hope that this program grows beyond TuSimple and beyond the state of Arizona.”

The program — and the self-driving truck industry — is meant to be a “positive disruption,” offering new, more exciting opportunities to drivers rather than eliminating the need for them, Brown said.

“We want drivers to be able to go up-skill themselves, get a better wage, have a better lifestyle and be home with their families every day and every night,” he said.

The program will be offered at Pima Community College in Tucson starting September 2019, with registration opening in August. Pima and TuSimple said they plan to collaborate with other schools to expand the program after it launches.

“We commend Pima Community College for offering this innovative and exciting program that can help address the acute driver shortage,” said Dr. Xiaodi Hou, founder, president and chief technology officer of TuSimple. “The program 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.”

The engineering, optics and software that goes into creating autonomous vehicles require advanced degrees, but operating and maintaining the vehicles can be done by skilled technicians, said Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.

Because of the nature of the new technology, new programs must be created to meet the needs of industry, developing skills specific to emerging technologies, he said.

“When we’re talking to companies, trying to bring companies to this community, one of the things everybody is always concerned about is, ‘Do you have the appropriate workforce?’” Rothschild said. “Well, technology moves so fast now that we can say ‘yes,’ but a year from now the answer could be ‘no,’ unless we have places of higher education that are willing to go out to these companies and say, ‘What do you need? We will get it for you,’ and that’s exactly what Pima’s doing.”

Graham Bosch

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