A trucking startup just made the longest self-driving trip in history

The longest self-driving truck delivery in history was recently completed, spanning four states and 650 miles.

Embark Trucks made the announcement on November 13th, following the successful pilot run in October.

The Embark Truck hauled a load of Frigidaire refrigerators on Interstate 10 through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, utilizing automated driving technology, with Ryder Transportation providing final mile delivery at a pickup point.

A report in Business Wire detailed the trip:

During the pilot, a Ryder Dedicated Transportation Solutions driver picks up a trailer filled with FRIGIDAIRE® brand refrigerators at a yard in El Paso, TX, and drives it through the city to a transition point along the I-10, which is ranked as one of the highest truck volume corridors in the U.S. At the transition point, the driver unhooks and connects the trailer to Embark’s automated truck, which then hauls the cargo 650 miles along the I-10 and hands it off to a Ryder driver at a transition point in Palm Springs, CA. The local Ryder driver in Palm Springs will then pick up the trailer to complete the final mile delivery to an Electrolux distribution center in Ontario, CA.

The pilot trip was tested using a Level 2 automation system, meaning the automated truck is driving but a professional driver remains behind the wheel, observing and ready to take control at any time.

During the pilot trip, the automation system commanded the rig for a majority of the highway miles, with the truck driver taking control for a mandatory stop at a port of entry. Level 2 automation is meant solely for highway driving, where Embark believes automation is most useful and reasonable.

“The long haul stretches of open interstate between cities tend to be the most predictable, with less potential for unexpected obstacles like cyclists and pedestrians. It’s also where professional drivers are most vulnerable to distraction and drowsiness. An existing truck, equipped with the right sensors and the right software, can safely navigate this stretch without succumbing to boredom or tiredness. The human driver’s time and energy would be much better spent doing other things,” the company says.

Alex Rodrigues, CEO of Embark, explained that the automated driving system can address a long-haul driver shortage, while creating the need for more local driving jobs.

“Trucking is facing a workforce problem, more than 50 percent 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.”

Embark, Ryder, and Frigidaire are now planning an expansion program, increasing the number of trucks being tested along the same route.