Autonomous trucking is currently one of the most competitive fields of technological innovation, with many companies vying for funding and talent. One of the companies that are enjoying a hot streak in terms of funding and product development is Embark, a startup founded by Alex Rodrigues and Brandon Moak in 2016. This newcomer has achieved a lot despite its short existence, including a continuous 100-mile autonomous drive.
A Thriving Startup
Rodrigues (CEO) and Moak (CTO) began working on self-driving technology while they were pursuing Mechatronics engineering degrees at the University of Waterloo. The former managed a team of 20 people at the FIRST Robotics competition, and he became the youngest student to win the pitch competition held by Velocity Fund. He and his team had built an autonomous car while they were kids.
Embark began making waves in the automotive industry in February this year with the introduction of trucks featuring its net-based neural deep learning method for autonomous trucking. Later on, the startup entered into a partnership with heavy equipment manufacturer Peterbilt to begin the development of a new group of test trucks. Its original test prototype was built on a Peterbilt 579 truck.
Due to its rapid growth, the company is planning to increase its team from 17 to 60 employees in the near future. Additionally, it is currently renovating its new space, a 15,000 square-foot warehouse that was once used for storing San Francisco Giants merchandise. Now, space accommodates five development trucks with self-driving technology.
The Future in the Making
Inside one of Embark’s trucks, there is little clue suggesting that it has autonomous capabilities. In actuality, it is loaded with a wide range of sensors, including optical camera, radar, and Velodyne LiDAR arrays, as well as a lot of computing power from Nvidia GPUs and other systems that serve as the “brain” of the autonomous truck. All the processing is done on the truck itself, including route mapping and sensor fusion. During a test, a safety driver is present behind the wheel to take over if necessary and manually drive the truck onto and away from the freeway. Completing a continuous 100-mile autonomous drive is a major milestone for Embark, considering that the drive involved highway transfers, lane changes, and lane navigation without clearly defined markers.
Other Trucking Technologies
While autonomous trucking has seen significant improvements, it may take a few years before it becomes a reality. Meanwhile, other new technologies have been introduced to make trucking more efficient and safer, including truck tracking GPS devices, newly improved large equipment, route planning software, fleet maintenance programs, and the “see-through” truck, which is a giant screen behind a truck showing the road ahead. Truckers can also use a new app called HWY Pro to plan loads and dispatches more efficiently. Developed by Bill Busbice Jr, Harry Hover, and Paul Svindland, this app allows truckers to plan thousands of deliveries in one go.
Truckers and trucking companies have a lot to gain from adopting the latest trucking technologies. These technologies can help them save time, effort, and resources, as well as reduce the risk of accidents.