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UPS recently invested in TuSimple, an autonomous trucking company, to further develop driverless freight deliveries between Tucson and Phoenix. 

With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments.

UPS Invests In Autonomous Trucking. United Parcel Service’s venture capital arm, UPS Ventures, recently announced it invested in the autonomous driving company TuSimple, which operates dozens of autonomous semi trucks from its Tucson warehouse. Together, UPS and TuSimple are testing self-driving semi trucks in Arizona “to determine whether the vehicles can improve service and efficiency in the UPS network.” These ongoing tests see UPS providing truckloads of goods for TuSimple to autonomously ship between Phoenix and Tucson. TuSimple and UPS use these shipments to monitor the distance and time the trucks travel autonomously, as well as to collect safety data. According to a press release, TuSimple believes its technology can reduce the costs of shipping goods via tractor trailer by 30 percent. Completely driverless vehicles remain a legal, technological and logistical debate; and all of TuSimple’s current autonomous vehicles host an engineer and driver onboard in case of an emergency. 

“The UPS Ventures mission is to build collaborative relationships with early-stage companies that provide capabilities and insights that accelerate technological advancements within our network,” said UPS Ventures Managing Partner Todd Lewis. “UPS Ventures collaborates with startups to explore new technologies and tailor them to help meet our specific needs.”

Detecting Norovirus with Cellphones. Researchers at the University of Arizona’s College of Engineering have developed a smartphone attachment and corresponding app to detect norovirus in a portable and inexpensive manner. Norovirus is a highly infectious microbe responsible for 200,000 deaths globally each year, and just 10 particles of the virus can make a person sick. The UA researchers only need to use “microfluidic chips” and a smartphone to detect the virus. This is done by adding water that is potentially contaminated with norovirus to the microfluidic chip, then the smartphone app counts the number of norovirus particles in the sample. Whereas norovirus was previously detected with laboratories, this allows the virus to be detected in the field. And the most expensive piece of the system only costs $50. And according to Jeong-Yeol Yoon, a researcher in the UA Department of Biomedical Engineering, “You don’t have to be a scientist or an engineer to run the device.”

Ups and Downs at Vector. On Aug. 7, the Tucson based space technology company Vector Launch received a $3.4 million contract from the Air Force’s Rocket Systems Launch Program office. The contract is for the ASLON-45 spacelift mission, which will “provide orbital launch services to support the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program and other Government agencies, improving DOD’s real-time threat warnings.” This is Vector’s first Air Force contract. However, only two days after receiving this contract, Vector paused most of its operations due to a “significant change in financing.” This report was followed by announcements that CEO Jim Cantrell had left the company. As of print, the future of Vector is uncertain.