An autonomous truck with a big “brain” has been launched by Embark, a San Mateo, California-based company whose employees include alumni from SpaceX, Audi’s self-driving team and StanfordAl.
News sources report that Embark, founded last year, has built an autopilot system with a “central cortex” that uses a combination of sensors, radars and cameras that not only assess the environment to prevent crashes but can learn and adapt what it has learned to new situations.
Embark’s truck uses a combination of radars, cameras and depth sensors known as LiDARs to perceive the world around it. The millions of data points from these sensors are processed using a form of Artificial Intelligence known as Deep Neural Nets or DNNs.
“Analyzing terabyte-upon-terabyte of real-world data, Embark’s DNNs have learned how to see through glare, fog and darkness on their own,” said Alex Rodrigues, CEO and cofounder of Embark.
“We’ve programed them with a set of rules to help safely navigate most situations, how to safely learn from the unexpected and how to apply that experience to new situations going forward,” he added.
For the present, Embark doesn’t intend to deploy fully autonomous trucks onto the nation’s highways, but to use them on long stretches of highway where the trucks are less likely to run into traffic congestion or cyclists.
At the city limit, Embark's computerized truck hands off to a human driver who navigates the city streets to the destination. A human driver will still touch every load, says an Embark news release, “but with Embark they’re able to move more loads per day, handing off hundreds of miles of freeway driving to their robot partners.”
“Spending weeks on the highway is tough on you,” said owner-operator Jeff Scorsur. “If I could still get the job done while driving in my own city and sleeping in my own bed, that would make my family very happy,” he said.
According to Rodrigues, the idea for Embark came after blowing a tire on the interstate and waiting four hours for the tow truck to arrive.
“Every single 18-wheeler that drove past had a sign on the back 'Drivers Wanted'. It was so clear there was a shortage of drivers,” he said.
Citing figures from the American Transportation Research Institute that estimates a shortage of 100,000 truck drivers in the industry that will only get worse as baby boomer-aged drivers retire, Rodrigues said Embark’s goal “is to increase productivity per driver and prevent the shortage from becoming a crisis.”
Rodrigues built his first autonomous robot at 13 years old and has been pushing the boundaries ever since. His robots have won international competitions and one of his autonomous shuttles transported over 1,000 passengers in demonstrations across California.
The team is backed by a multi-million dollar investment led by Maven Ventures. Maven’s previous investment in self-driving technology, Cruise Automation, sold to GM for $1 billion last year.
Embark plans to quadruple its engineering team within the next year and aggressively expand its testing fleet to show their technology is ready for the nation’s highways.
“We are committed to proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that this technology is safe and reliable,” said Rodrigues. “That means performing extensive tests and working with our partners in the government to get it — and the market — ready.”
Embark is developing self-driving technology for commercial trucking. In addition to Maven Ventures, it also is “in partnership with some of Silicon Valley's most distinguished angel investors,” an Embark news release stated.
For more information visit: www.embarkdrive.com.