Embark said it is the first automated truck technology company to introduce a work-zone navigation system.
Safely handling unexpected road conditions is one of the challenges facing self-driving truck development. They represent a unique and often unexpected situation that AVs need to be able to react to in-real time, the company noted.
Embark said it prioritizes a sensors-first approach, allowing trucks to drive in a manner similar to a human driver. “That means our trucks can safely react to work zone and lane closures as they appear on the road, including ones they've never seen before,” according to company officials.
The truck can identify warning signs and cones and merge into the adjacent lane to avoid work zones.
To support this initiative, Embark is partnering with the Arizona Department of Transportation to share data about work zones and road infrastructure, to ultimately improve safe navigation of highway work zones by autonomous trucks.
In announcing the memorandum of understanding, Embark noted that 123,000 work zone related crashes occurred nationally in 2018, resulting in 757 preventable fatalities, and 30% of work zone fatal crashes and 10% of work zone injury crashes involved at least one large truck.
Using data collected from its operations, Embark will provide Arizona with feedback on mutually-defined areas of interest such as infrastructure health, road design, and quality of publicly available work zone data. Embark will also provide technical briefings to Arizona officials to contribute to awareness of rapidly developing AV technology. ADOT, in turn, will share open-source data on work zones that can contribute to safe navigation. Both Embark and ADOT may seek to share with other public sector stakeholders any relevant findings that would facilitate the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles.
Embark is pursuing a middle mile approach to automated trucking, operating only on limited access highways and short off-highway segments to distribution centers. Nevertheless, work zones present the most common variable in long haul trucking that must be overcome for automated deployment, it said in the announcement.
“Safely navigating work zones is an important requisite for any driver, including autonomous trucks. By working with ADOT, we’ve accelerated our ability to understand and safely navigate corner cases, moving us closer to our goal of deploying autonomous trucks,” said Embark Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Brandon Moak. "We are excited that our system's ability to read signs, respond to traffic control devices, and detect workers, combined with its 'always-on' state that never gets fatigued or distracted, can be an important contributor to road safety in Arizona.”