Autonomous vehicle technology company Embark has partnered with Ryder System and household appliance maker Frigidaire, on a pilot test program to transport goods on public highways in the Southwest.
Beginning in October, the pilot has involved several trips transporting appliances through four states using Embark automated trucks, on the highway segments and Ryder tractors and drivers on surface streets. The pilot is focused on highway driving, which is more structured and allows for faster commercialization, and solves a critical challenge for the freight industry, according to the company.
“Trucking is facing a workforce problem,” said Alex Rodrigues, Embark’s CEO. “More than 50% of all drivers will retire in the next two decades and there aren’t nearly enough young drivers joining the industry to replace them. By allowing automation to work together with local drivers to handle less desirable long haul routes, we will be able to increase productivity to address the current 50,000 driver shortage, while also creating new local driving jobs that attract younger drivers for the industry.”
During the pilot program, Frigidaire refrigerators were successfully transported 650 miles at a time, using automated driving technology. Operating at a Level 2 system, the pilot involved trucks with a professional driver sitting at the wheel actively monitoring the road, supervising the system, and ready to take control at any time. The team worked closely with state transportation and public safety officials in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California to coordinate testing activity.
Stretches as long as 306 consecutive miles were traveled in automated mode, with the driver only taking over control for a mandatory stop at a port of entry, according to Embark. After the initial pilot program, Embark, Frigidaire, and Ryder will look to increase the number of test trucks moving shipments along this freight lane in the coming months.
“Every month we’re making big strides,” said Rodrigues. “We’re working towards commercializing this technology and aim to have it operational within just a few years.”