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Autonomous Truck Developer Embark Trucks Adds Freight Carrier U.S. Xpress to its Partner Development Program

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【Summary】​San Francisco-based autonomous trucking startup Embark Trucks today announced that freight carrier U.S. Xpress has joined its Embark Partner Development Program and plans to add its freight terminals to Embark's Coverage Map. These transfer points are used to move freight from driverless, long-haul trucks to driver-enabled trucks for first- and last-mile delivery.

Eric Walz    May 06, 2022 12:00 PM PT
Autonomous Truck Developer Embark Trucks Adds Freight Carrier U.S. Xpress to its Partner Development Program

San Francisco-based autonomous trucking startup Embark Trucks today announced that freight carrier U.S. Xpress has joined its Embark Partner Development Program and plans to add its freight terminals to the Embark Coverage Map. 

The partnership is significant, as its adds U.S. Xpress properties to Embark autonomous truck developer's transfer point network, which is a pioneering model developed by Embark in 2019 for the movement of freight using autonomous trucks.

The first of these transfer points opened in Los Angeles and Phoenix.

The transfer points are used to move freight from driverless, long-haul trucks to driver-enabled trucks for first- and last-mile delivery. Embark said it has conducted hundreds of freight hauls through these sites, refining required transfer point features and developing standardized process flows.

The transfer points allows the trucks to operate autonomously on long stretches of highway, then hand off control to a human driver for the first or last leg of the journey.

"We've established U.S. Xpress as a carrier leader in autonomous trucking and this partnership is further evidence of our intention to be an early adopter of autonomous vehicle technology," said Eric Fuller, President & CEO of U.S. Xpress. "Through this partnership with Embark, we're taking the next important step in planning and preparing our terminal network to support executing our autonomous strategy."

U.S. Xpress is one of the largest freight carriers in the U.S. Its nationwide terminal network gives Embark the opportunity to support and scale its autonomous trucking operations. 

Embark and U.S. Xpress will identify priority terminals based on traffic patterns, customer needs, and technical requirements. The companies will initially start with two terminals in Sunbelt states with the goal of establishing a high-volume freight route for autonomous hauling. 

Alos as part of the partnership, the two companies plan to co-develop an onsite operations playbook for standardized processes for when an autonomous truck enters one of the U.S. Xpress properties. 

These standardized processes include gate access, onsite vehicle movement, trailer swap procedures, safety inspections, data and power management, and more. Embark says that developing these procedures upfront will help the U.S. Xpress to more quickly integrate Embark-powered autonomous trucks to its freight operations and better scale the operations across the U.S.

"Through our partnership with U.S. Xpress, we have identified a unique opportunity to leverage U.S. Xpress' existing truck terminals, unlocking a more seamless scaling process," said Alex Rodrigues, CEO of Embark. "By utilizing existing truck terminals for transfer operations, Embark autonomous trucks will be able to more easily integrate with existing U.S. Xpress network assets such as last-mile driver capacity, parking, and maintenance services."

Embark is developer of software for autonomous Class-8 trucks. The company was founded in San Francisco in 2016 by CEO Alex Rodrigues and CTO Brandon Moak. The company has been working on autonomous trucks since its founding.

The company is one of several high-profile autonomous trucking startups looking to make the movement of freight more efficient and safer. Others include TuSimple, Aurora, Waymo, Torc Robotics and Kodiak Robotics

Embark is focused on improving the safety, efficiency of the nearly $730 billion a year trucking market. The company partners with some of the largest shippers and carriers which collectively represents over 38,000 long-haul trucks.

Embark says it has operated the longest running road-testing program for self-driving trucks for long-haul freight delivery in the U.S.

In March of last year, Embark unveiled its 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.

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. All of these trucks are widely used in the freight industry by carriers.

The EUI includes all of the hardware and sensors necessary to convert trucks from each of the manufactuers into self-driving trucks. It also has all of the functional safety certification to operate the trucks without a driver on public roads. 

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

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Embark's EUI can be integrated into trucks from multiple manufacturers, including Freightliner, Peterbilt, International and Volvo Trucks. 

Embark's EUI is powered by the NVIDIA DRIVE autonomous driving platform. Embark has worked closely with NVIDIA for the past four years to develop the EUI for long-haul trucks. Embark is adopting a scalable compute solution to deploy robust self-driving software in the trucking industry. 

NVIDIA's DRIVE family of processors were purposefully developed to support autonomous driving systems with the best in high-performance AI compute for self-driving capabilities.

Self-driving trucks require massive compute power for deep-learning algorithms and AI. The AI-powered NVIDIA DRIVE SoCs can process vast amounts of data to support autonomous driving. It offers a centralized, high-performance processing that combines deep learning, sensor fusion and a 360 degree surround vision perception system for the highest levels of safety.

Many believe that self-driving trucks will be deployed on public roads before passenger vehicles. From an engineering standpoint, operating a truck autonomously on long stretches of highways is less challenging than developing a self-driving vehicle that can operate safely in a busy urban environment around pedestrians and other vehicles. 

For shippers like U.S. Xpress, self-driving trucks can operate more safely than a human driver. The automated trucks also use less fuel and can be utilized 24 hours a day without having to stop and take mandatory breaks that truck drivers are required to do. 

In addition, converting Class-8 trucks for self-driving also addresses the growing shortage of truck drivers in the industry.

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