If a new startup has its way, highways might soon be filled self-driving semi trucks. Embark, which emerged from stealth mode to launch publicly Friday, is the latest autonomous long haul solution to hit the road.
The company claims its semi trucks will be able to self-navigate freeway routes from exit to exit without any driver interaction. The State of Nevada gave its blessing to Embark to test vehicles on public roads earlier this year, so the company has already begun to collect all-important on-road data to hone the system.
Unlike other autonomous systems in development for consumer cars, Embark isn’t focused on every single aspect of the driving experience. This could be good news for truckers whose jobs could be lost to the tech in the future. Instead, the company envisions a system that depends on human operators and the trucks’ AI systems working together.
Embark’s autonomous trucks will self-navigate the long stretches of freeways between the more complicated and demanding streets in cities. The trucks will then be given over to human operators at predetermined checkpoints, who will manually finish the route and unload the goods at their final destination. The company’s CEO, Alex Rodrigues, said in a statement he believes the hybrid setup will increase productivity and make drivers more efficient.
Embark’s focus on truckers is a nice touch, but the Rodrigues isn’t clear on how the system will keep drivers engaged and working while the vehicles are in transit. If humans are only needed for small chunks of the trucking process, there would likely be fewer positions available for truckers looking for work. He claims the overall increased productivity that will come with self-driving trucks might help stave off a projected driver’s shortage in the coming years but other business leaders, most notably Elon Musk, are more concerned about the potential job losses that are bound to hit the transportation sector when autonomous vehicles are more commonplace.
Embark’s executive roster boasts veterans from SpaceX and Audi’s self-driving team and is backed by the same group that invested in Cruise Automation, which GM snapped up for $600 million last year to perfect its self-driving tech.
Now that the company is out in the open, Embark is looking to build out its engineering team and ratchet up road tests to prep the system for commercial use outside of Nevada’s highways.
Embark isn’t the only self-driving truck out there. Uber-owned Otto used an autonomous truck to haul a freight of 2,000 cases of Budweiser in Colorado last October, completing the 120-mile trip without any driver intervention.