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Embark, Frigidaire, and Ryder partner to pilot Level 2 automated driving technology for Class 8 trucks

Embark, a startup developing self-driving truck technology (earlier post), is partnering with Frigidaire and Ryder System to pilot a series of automated driving technology tests. During the pilot, Frigidaire refrigerators were successfully transported 650 miles at a time, in semi-trucks using automated driving technology.

Begun in October, the pilot has involved several hauls of appliances through four states using Embark automated tractors on the highway segments and Ryder tractors and drivers on surface streets. The pilot focused on highway driving, which is more structured, allows for faster commercialization, and also solves a critical challenge for the freight industry.

Trucking is facing a workforce problem. More than 50 percent of all drivers will retire in the next two decades and there aren’t nearly enough young drivers joining the industry to replace them. By allowing automation to work together with local drivers to handle less desirable long haul routes, we will be able to increase productivity to address the current 50,000 driver shortage while also creating new local driving jobs that attract younger drivers for the industry.

— Embark’s CEO Alex Rodrigues

During the pilot, a Ryder Dedicated Transportation Solutions driver picks up a trailer filled with Frigidaire brand refrigerators at a yard in El Paso, TX, and drives it through the city to a transition point along the I-10—one of the highest truck volume corridors in the US.

At the transition point, the driver unhooks and connects the trailer to Embark’s automated truck, which then hauls the cargo 650 miles along the I-10 and hands it off to a Ryder driver at a transition point in Palm Springs, CA.

The local Ryder driver in Palm Springs will then pick up the trailer to complete the final mile delivery to an Electrolux distribution center in Ontario, CA. While the Embark truck currently uses a Level 2 system operated by a properly licensed driver, this represents an important step toward a future in which fully autonomous trucks will safely navigate the highway.

Operating at a SAE Level 2, the pilot involved trucks with a professional driver sitting at the wheel actively monitoring the road, supervising the system, and ready to take control at any time. The team worked closely with state transportation and public safety officials in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California to coordinate testing activity.

Embark’s truck uses a combination of radars, cameras and LiDARs to perceive the world around it. The millions of data points from these sensors are processed using Deep Neural Nets (or DNNs) that allow the truck to learn from its own experience. Click to enlarge.

Several loads were hauled throughout October, during which the Embark automated truck traveled as many as 306 consecutive miles in automated mode, with the driver only taking over control for a mandatory stop at a port of entry.

We believe that automated transportation will play a key role in how logistics networks function in the future. Automation will ultimately improve safety, efficiency, and sustainability for our customers who count on Ryder to provide them with guidance around new technologies such as advanced driver-assistance systems. We’re excited to be working with Embark and Frigidaire, to demonstrate these advancements in a real-world logistics operation.

—Dennis Cooke, President, Global Fleet Management Solutions for Ryder

After the initial pilot program, Embark, Frigidaire, and Ryder will look to increase the number of test trucks moving shipments along this freight lane in the coming months.

Rodrigues said that Embark aims to have the technology commercialized and operational within just a few years.


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