Embark Looks to Tractor-Trailers as the Next Self-Driving Vehicles

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【Summary】Embark, a company that develops self-driving tech for commercial use, unveiled its autonomous tractor-trailer to the public last week. With the launch of its self-driving semi-truck, Embark looks to take on Uber-owned Otto in an emerging segment.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Feb 28, 2017 1:15 PM PT
Embark Looks to Tractor-Trailers as the Next Self-Driving Vehicles

Regular passenger cars aren't the only machines to get self-driving technology. Uber recently purchased Otto, a startup that has been working on self-driving trucks, in the hopes of becoming one of the first companies to capitalize on autonomous tech for commercial use. While Otto was one of the first into the segment of self-driving semi-trucks, it won't be the only one. 

Embark Comes Into The Open

Embark, a new startup that looks to challenge Otto, essentially came out of nowhere and unveiled its self-driving tractor-trailer to the public last week. Two 21-year-old college friends from Canada, Alex Rodrigues and Brandon Moak, started the company last year and have been working on autonomous tech since, reports USA Today. Since then, the company has been extremely busy obtaining the proper documents from the State of Nevada to start testing its trucks in January and has even logged 10,000 miles so far. 

Embark has a similar plan to Otto when it comes to how its semi-trucks will navigate on the highway. Just like Otto's trucks that will be able to go from exit-to-exit on a highway without any driver intervention thanks to cameras, laser-radar, and high-tech computers, Embark sees its machines as being able to do the same exit-to-exit journey. The main difference is that Embark's trucks will be able to drive without any human intervention until they meet up with drivers at exit-point meet-up locations who will complete the journey, reports USA Today

"We want to focus on trucking as opposed to cars because we think this is an area with an acute problem to solve, namely a shortage of long-haul drivers," said Rodrigues. "No one really wants to be away from home for long periods of time, and there's a 10x turnover rate for those drivers compared to people who work locally." 

Rodrigues and his team, which include veterans from Audi and SpaceX, may be onto something where self-driving technology would make a world of difference. According to a press release from the company citing The American Transportation Research Institute, the trucking industry is facing a shortage of drivers. By their estimates, the industry is in need of roughly 100,000 drivers. And the problem is expected to get worse as baby boomers retire. 

Perfect Timing For An Unveil

Embark may be a small team, USA Today reports that the company is made up of 10 individuals, but the battle to get its trucks on the road may not be met with stiff competition. A recent lawsuit filed by Waymo against Uber claims a former employee, Anthony Levandowski, stole files pertaining to Waymo's LIDAR system to start Otto. Things, then, aren't looking too good for Otto, or Uber.  

Rodrigues, though still believe it's an uphill battle to get self-driving tractor-trailers on the road. "There's a long way to go still, and I don't think it's the kind of race where the first person to develop the best tech wins," stated Rodrigues. "It will likely come down to having the best partnerships and working with regulators." 

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