Highway I-10 runs from runs coast to coast through this country's southern states, stretching from California to Florida. This month, a Peterbilt tractor used an assortment of sensors and self-guiding software to make the round trip from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Fla., and back run with very little help from the humans on board.
San Francisco-based Embark Trucking announced the first coast-to-coast autonomous run was completed on February 6. During the five-day run, a driver was always behind the wheel to watch the road and take over if needed, but Embark's technology handled almost all of the highway driving. The accompanying driver handled the more complicated driving functions such as getting the vehicle from the point of origin to the highway and from the highway to the final delivery point. (If you're wondering, yes, the mostly non-driving driver still was subject to hours-of-service regulations.) Also, in some states autonomous vehicle regulations require the driver to keep his hands on the wheel ready to take over if necessary.
The standard, diesel-powered tractor pulled an empty trailer during the test run to Florida but the company has been hauling refrigerators for Electrolux on an automated freight route between LA and El Paso, Texas since last year.
Embark's CEO, Alex Rodrigues, has grown his fleet of test trucks from his initial two last year and is looking to have 40 trucks by the end of this year. His intention is to use his test trucks and their collected data to run 'live' routes so as to refine the Embark technology to work with the network of commercial customers, state and local transportation regulators, truck equipment manufacturers, and drivers.
Rodrigues sees Embark's role in autonomous freight transportation vehicles as a factory-installed system offered through OEM's, instead of as an aftermarket option. Embark currently has a formal partnership with Peterbilt Motors Co., which is installing specialized components designed to support self-driving on the trucks it sells to the technology developer.
This business model will allow Embark to focus on its self-guiding technology instead of working to manufacture vehicles. The company plans to make its technology available to a number of truck makers.
Watch the hands-off operation here: