On Monday, autonomous truck tech company Embark Trucks Inc. announced that it has achieved a major milestone by completing a test run in adverse weather conditions.
Embark said in a May 9 release that the company had started testing in February 2022, using Embark-powered trucks traveling on a 60 mile round trip route on public roads between Clinton and Missoula, Montana in varying winter weather situations. Embark describes this as “industry-first autonomous testing in winter conditions.”
Embark said that the purpose of the weather-related test was to demonstrate the efficacy of its patent-pending Vision Map Fusion (VMF) technology. The VMF system uses “camera-based sensing modality” to “fill in the gaps” and “mitigate uncertainty” created by snow in the roadway.
“Results from the testing demonstrate that in approximately 90% of runs through the snowy conditions under study – which could result in delays for HD map-based autonomous driving systems – VMF should operate successfully, or pause and resume travel within acceptable shipper delivery windows,” Embark said.
The testing and weather analysis show significant technical and commercial promise: Embark’s testing and performance review indicated that VMF worked within tolerance thresholds for safe operation in snowfall rates up to one-sixth inch per hour and with snow accumulation of 1 inch on the road over 3 hours, conditions that cover the vast majority of snowy weather based on Embark’s analysis. The favorable test results represent a milestone in the development of autonomous trucking technology, as well as a major achievement for Embark made possible with VMF. Embark plans to continue to study the impact of snowy conditions on other elements of the Embark Driver.
Combining these performance results with historical weather patterns and typical shipper delivery timelines, Embark was able to estimate expected delivery performance. On northern lanes – those starting or ending outside of the Sunbelt – historical data shows that roughly 1 in 5 runs will experience some snowy conditions. Embark estimates its VMF system will operate within acceptable shipper delivery windows approximately 90% of the time on such runs. Embark will look to refine these initial findings in time through additional modeling and partner insights in order to account for associated considerations such as ice formation, sleet and heavy winds.
“When we set out to develop our autonomous truck solutions, we planned to create a system that is capable of operating safely across America in all kinds of road conditions, broadening our scope to serve parts of the country that may be limited by snow or inclement weather,” said Alex Rodrigues, CEO of Embark. “While we continue to focus on our existing commercialization timeline, the validation of our VMF technology for use in northern states and regions that regularly experience seasonal snowy weather will prepare us for long-term deployments and growth, and help us provide the most flexible solution possible for our carrier partners.”