TuSimple truck

TuSimple’s fully autonomous trucks are already making three to five delivery trips per day out of Tucson.

TuSimple, a self-driving-truck company with major research and development operations in Tucson, announced Wednesday that it raised $95 million in new capital to further its efforts to ramp up its commercial service.

The Series D funding round was led by prior major investor Sina Corp. and was based on a company valuation of $1 billion before the latest funding, making it a “unicorn” company, TuSimple said.

Unicorn is a nickname for privately held companies valued at more than $1 billion.

With the new funding round, TuSimple will continue to grow its commercial autonomous fleet for large shippers, the San Diego-based company said. The company already makes daily fully autonomous deliveries in Arizona and will soon operate in Texas

TuSimple’s fleet of self-driving trucks, which, for now, features Level 4 autonomous driving with a human driver and engineer, has allowed the company to earn revenue while validating its technology.

The company says it has 12 contracted customers and is making three to five delivery trips per day, with plans to grow the fleet to over 50 trucks by June.

TuSimple’s Level 4 fully autonomous semi-trucks use a system built around cameras that allow them to “see” 1,000 meters ahead of the vehicle, farther than other systems using radars or lasers.

TuSimple, which has been hauling loads from Tucson for more than a year, employs more than 100 people at its development center and truck terminal on East Old Vail Road and plans to hire 500 workers here over two years.

The $95 million financing, which was completed in December, brings TuSimple’s total funding to date to $178 million.

Along with lead investor Sina, a Chinese tech company that developed one of China’s most popular social-media platforms, the funding round included participation from Composite Capital, a Hong Kong-based investment firm focused on consumer, technology and transportation companies.

In a statement, a senior Sina official said TuSimple has consistently met its milestones ahead of schedule and is poised to bring the first commercial self-driving trucks to market.

“We are focused on finding the global leaders in artificial intelligence and TuSimple is ahead of the pack,” said Colin Xie, vice general manager in Sina’s investment department.

“The combination of technical excellence and an impressive leadership team has propelled the company into unicorn status,” Xie said.

“Autonomous driving is one of the most complex AI (artificial intelligence) systems humans have ever built,” said Xiaodi Hou, TuSimple’s founder, president and chief technology officer. “After three years of intense focus to reach our technical goals, we have moved beyond research into the serious work of building a commercial solution.”

Contact senior reporter David Wichner at dwichner@tucson.com or 573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner. On Facebook: Facebook.com/DailyStarBiz

Senior reporter covering business and technology for the Arizona Daily Star/Tucson.com