Self-driving startup Embark Trucks envisions a central role in an autonomous ecosystem run by fleets and logistics operators who know trucking the way Embark knows software.
Even though it runs freight loads in autonomous-enabled trucks with a safety driver from Los Angeles to Phoenix, Embark wants to stick to developing autonomous technology and leave the ins and outs of trucking to those that know it best.
So, it is launching a Partner Development Program with Werner Enterprises (NASDAQ: WERN), Mesilla Valley Transportation and Bison Transport. The goal is to improve the speed, reliability and safety of robot trucks while making life more flexible for human drivers.
Embark would refine its software and create support services to enable carriers to own and operate Embark-equipped trucks on certain U.S. freight lanes.
Central to the ecosystem approach is the Embark Drive system. Embark would license the software on a per-mile basis that would allow safe navigation of a carrier-owned, Embark-equipped truck from its origin to destination. Carriers would be able to deploy and manage a fleet of autonomous trucks within their existing networks.
“In five years, if you peered into a particularly larger carrier, you would see that alongside their dedicated and their [over-the-road] and their intermodal operations, they now have another business unit and it is autonomous trucking,” Sam Abidi, Embark head of business development, told FreightWaves.
Embark competitor TuSimple laid out a similar approach as one of two ways it plans to monetize its autonomous software that will be embedded in an International Class 8 truck from Navistar International Corp. (NYSE: NAV) in 2024.
Focus on the road, not the map
The fleet management approach includes Embark Guardian, which provides remote vehicle monitoring, dispatching, and real-time access to weather and construction data. Embark software focuses on the road rather than relying on mapping technology. It is able to react to road construction that might not have been underway when the map was recorded.
Embark also has created a universal interface that is plug-and-play capable on Class 8 trucks from Freightliner, Volvo, International and Peterbilt.
Building an autonomous network
“The combination of Embark Driver and Embark Guardian leverages the logistical expertise of the carrier, [and] allows the technology to scale more quickly through existing shipper-carrier relationships,” Embark co-founder and CEO Alex Rodrigues said in a press release.
Carriers, including Werner, will work with Embark to test and refine remote vehicle monitoring, vehicle maintenance procedures, teleoperations, AV dispatching rules, and transfer hub logistics.
“By working with Embark, we amplify the voice of our drivers and our customers, allowing them to be an important part of the conversation around the innovation that impacts the future of our industry,” Werner Vice Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Derek Leathers said.
Werner also is a member of TuSimple’s Executive Advisory Board and an investor.
Anheuser-Busch (NYSE: BUD) and other Fortune 500 shippers are providing end-customer input on integrating and scaling autonomous trucks in their supply chains. Truck manufacturers, real estate developers and maintenance providers are helping determine what nationwide network of autonomous freight lanes would require.
“Hub to hub is where this starts because it’s the easiest model to go live with because it’s the simplest technical problem to solve,” Abidi said. “It requires us just to run on the highway. But over time, we think it’s very probable that you’re mapping in some of your shipper partners’ hubs into your network. Essentially, their distribution centers are becoming like hubs would be.”