Self-driving trucking startup Embark is revealing its tech for the first time, showing off a competitor for Uber’s Otto that uses neural networks and deep learning to teach trucks how to drive themselves through their own processes of practice and trial and error.
Embark’s trucks are also approved to test on Nevada roads, hence the desert scenery you see in the video above, and in the images included in this post. The company’s tech is able to handle potential obstacles like a slow car occupying the lane in front, and pass on undivided highways, as you can see in the video. It can also handle glare, fog and darkness, having learned to do so on its own, according to Embark co-founder and CEO Alex Rodrigues.
The tech Embark has created is not designed to replace human drivers entirely, at least for now. Instead, it’s intended to take over control during long stretches of relatively boring and straightforward driving, while also passing control to human drivers when it enters complex driving scenarios like those found in cities.
The company’s foundation was based on the fact that there’s currently a truck drive shortage, and its tech can help add to the number of routes a human driver can handle by decreasing their actual time spent actively driving. Even though driving is, across categories, a huge employment category in the U.S., it’s also true that most overland freight providers are also looking to add to their cadre of capable drivers.
Rodrigues’ team at Embark includes SpaceX alumni, as well as people from Audi’s self-driving team. The startup also has funding from Maven Ventures, which also backed Cruise, the self-driving company GM acquired for $1 billion to help kickstart its own autonomous vehicle development efforts.
There’s no definite timeline on Embark’s deployment of its self-driving truck in active service, but the company is ramping its engineering hiring aggressively and hopes also to build out its fleet of testing vehicles for its Nevada trials. And with Uber’s Otto facing strong legal challenges from Alphabet’s Waymo, now might be exactly the right time for a new autonomous trucking startup to strike.