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Autonomous Truck Startup Embark Launches the ‘Embark Universal Interface' That Works With Different Truck Manufacturers to Make Them Capable of Self-Driving

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【Summary】San Francisco-based self-driving truck developer Embark unveiled a universal autonomous driving hardware and software stack called the “Embark Universal Interface” (EUI) that can be integrated into trucks from multiple manufacturers, including Freightliner, Peterbilt, International and Volvo Trucks. The universal interface makes its easier for truck manufacturers to integrate Embark's autonomous driving technology into their existing truck platforms.

Eric Walz    Mar 31, 2021 12:05 PM PT
Autonomous Truck Startup Embark Launches the ‘Embark Universal Interface' That Works With Different Truck Manufacturers to Make Them Capable of Self-Driving
Embark's Universal Interface for autonomous trucks is compatible with multiple brands, including Freightliner and Peterbilt.

While self-driving cars receive much of the attention in the auto industry lately, companies are also working on autonomous trucks that have the potential to transform the trucking industry, while making the roads safer and lowering the costs of shipping goods.

One such company is San Francisco-based startup Embark Trucks. The company has been working on self-driving trucks since launching in 2016. 

However, as other autonomous driving startups outfit single makes of commercial trucks for self-driving, Embark is taking a different approach. The company just unveiled a universal autonomous driving hardware and software stack called the "Embark Universal Interface" (EUI) that can be integrated into trucks from multiple manufacturers, including Freightliner, Peterbilt, International and Volvo Trucks. 

The universal interface for truck OEMs makes it easier for truck manufacturers to integrate Embark's autonomous driving technology into their existing truck platforms.

With its new EUI, Embark says it's the first autonomous truck developer to build a system that works with all four major U.S. truck OEMs, instead of building independent systems designed to work with each manufacturer.

Embark said it made a decision in early 2020 to pursue a different approach to OEM integration of an autonomous driving stack on an existing truck platform. The company said its decision required an immense amount of upfront investment and planning around cross-platform trade-offs.

The EUI consists of two primary parts. Part one consists of a standardized components package, which includes all of the necessary hardware, including cameras, radar' lidar and the computer system. The hardware for the EUI was selected after thousands of hours of design, testing, and analysis, Embark said.

The second part of the EUI includes the physical, electrical, and software interfaces that enable the standardized components to connect to and communicate with any OEM platform's steering, braking, throttle, telematics, power, chassis, and HVAC systems. 

Embark said this two-part approach of standardized components and flexible interfaces, achieves the best of both worlds for Embark and OEMs looking to outfit their trucks for autonomous driving.

Embark also developed a processor that controls the system called the Embark Gateway, which is an automotive-grade electronic control unit (ECU) that enables communication between Embark's technology and any OEM truck platform.

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The Embark Gateway.

Embark's long-term vision is for truck makers to integrate its autonomous driving technology with their platforms, which the OEMs will then sell with the standard maintenance and warranty packages generally offered to truck and fleet customers. Embark says its supports this business model and the overall design of the EUI was meant to accelerate it.

"We absolutely believe that integrating with OEMs is the path to market for self-driving trucks," said Alex Rodrigues, co-founder and chief executive officer of Embark. "We also believe that being cross-compatible and easy to integrate into all OEM's vehicles as their level 4 platforms continue to develop gives us a competitive advantage."

In addition to demonstrating the Embark Driver's compatibility with the four major OEM platforms, the EUI program also enables Embark to more quickly grow its test fleet using trucks from the four of the biggest brands in the industry, which can help Embark accelerate time to deployment.

"The launch of EUI opens the door to a much larger market opportunity for Embark by making their self-driving technology platform-agnostic," said Pat Grady, Partner at Sequoia Capital, which is a backer of Embark. "This is a huge step forward both for Embark and for the entire trucking industry."

The EUI program may also help to establish standards for the integration of autonomous driving technology in long-haul, Class 8 trucks. Some of these standards might include the optimal placement of external perception sensors, vehicle communication protocols across brands, telematics standardization, power management, and many other areas, according to Embark.

Embark_1C9A0685.jpg

Sensors and hardware for autonomous driving, including lidar and cameras, are mounted above the windshield.

According to Embark, many major carriers use trucks built by different manufacturers in their fleets and the development of the EUI positions Embark to better meet the needs of the real-world needs of the trucking industry, as well as the needs of carriers which often purchase trucks from different manufacturers.

"We currently purchase trucks from multiple OEMs and plan to continue this strategy to optimize the experience for our drivers and meet our Total Cost of Ownership objectives," said Trevor Fridfinnson, Chief Operating Officer at Bison Transport. "Embark's investment to integrate its autonomous driving system with the major OEMs will allow us to test and deploy autonomous trucking capabilities without introducing a new OEM into our fleet for that sole purpose."

While Embark's universal approach to outfit multiple makes of trucks for autonomous driving is unique in the industry, other companies are also working on autonomous long-haul trucks. 

Autonomous driving startup Aurora just announced a new partnership with Volvo to jointly build autonomous trucks. Alphabet's self-driving division Waymo is also outfitting trucks for autonomous driving. 

In Oct 2020, Waymo has announced a global partnership with Daimler Trucks in which Waymo will integrate its autonomous driving stack it calls "Waymo Driver" into Class 8 trucks from Freightliner. Waymo is working directly with Freightliner to integrate its self-driving technology into the Class-8 trucks during production.

Other companies developing autonomous trucks are California startup TuSimple and Swedish company Einride.

Autonomous trucks are poised to transform the shipping industry. Some analysts predict that self-driving trucks will appear on roads long before self-driving passenger vehicles. From an engineering standpoint, developing an autonomous truck for long stretches of highway driving is much less complex compared to passenger vehicles or robotaxis programmed to navigate city streets that are packed with other vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists. 


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