The company, which gained approval by the State of Nevada earlier this year to begin testing its truck on public roads, says it has created a technology that allows trucks to drive from exit to exit on the freeway without any human input.
The truck uses a combination of radars, cameras, and depth sensors known as LiDARs to sense the world around it. The millions of data points from these sensors are processed using a form of Artificial Intelligence known as Deep Neural Nets (or DNNs) that allow the truck to learn from its own experience.
“Analyzing terabyte upon terabyte of real-world data, Embark’s DNNs have learned how to see through glare, fog and darkness on their own,” said Alex Rodrigues, CEO and co-founder of Embark. “We’ve programmed them with a set of rules to help safely navigate most situations, how to safely learn from the unexpected, and how to apply that experience to new situations going forward.”
The company said professional drivers were kept in mind when it first started to develop the technology. The truck is built specifically to handle long, simple stretches of freeway driving between cities, versus all aspects of driving. At the city limit, Embark’s computerized truck hands off to a human driver who navigates the city streets to the destination. A human driver will still touch every load, but with Embark they’re able to move more loads per day, handing off hundreds of miles of freeway driving to their robot partners.
“Spending weeks on the highway is tough on you,” said owner-operator Jeff Scorsur. “If I could still get the job done while driving in my own city and sleeping in my own bed, that would make my family very happy.”
According to Rodrigues, the idea for Embark came after blowing a tire on the interstate and waiting four hours for the tow truck to arrive.
“Every single 18-wheeler that drove past had a sign on the back ‘Drivers Wanted’. It was so clear there was a shortage of drivers,” he said. “The numbers back that up. The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) estimates there is currently a shortage of 100,000 truck drivers in the industry, which is poised to only get worse as baby boomer drivers — the bulk of the industry’s workforce — retire over the next decade. Embark’s goal is to increase productivity per driver and prevent the shortage from becoming a crisis.”
Rodrigues has a long history with robotics. He built his first autonomous robot at 13 years old and has been pushing the boundaries ever since. His robots have won international competitions and one of his autonomous shuttles transported over 1,000 passengers in demonstrations across California.
Rodrigues started Embark by recruiting talent from technology leaders including SpaceX, StanfordAI, and Audi’s self-driving team. The Embark team is backed by a multi-million dollar investment lead by Maven Ventures. Maven’s previous investment in self-driving technology, Cruise Automation, sold to GM for $1B last year. Embark now plans to quadruple its engineering team within the next year and aggressively expand its testing fleet to show their technology is ready for prime time.
“We are committed to proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that this technology is safe and reliable,” said Rodrigues. “That means performing extensive tests and working with our partners in the government to get it — and the market — ready.”
You can view a video of the truck in action by clicking here.
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