Autonomous vehicle company Embark Trucks has launched a new driverless trucking lane between Houston and San Antonio in Texas, the company announced Dec. 9.
The San Francisco-based firm also opened a new autonomous trucking hub in the Houston area to help support its growth in the region, the company stated.
Embark noted it chose Houston because it was located at the center of key trucking lanes 600 or more miles long. These are ideal for commercially viable long-haul autonomous freight runs, as they cannot be completed in a single day by a human driver due to hours-of-service limitations. Hauls on such lanes can see rapid improvements in speed using autonomous systems—for example, a 600-mile run could take approximately 22 hours to complete manually, assuming full compliance with the federal hours of service rules, while that same run would take just 12 hours to complete autonomously.
Moreover, Embark noted that the Houston area is home to leading academics and research institutions dedicated to autonomous vehicle technology, such as those at Texas A&M University. Embark expects to work closely with these partners to test, deploy, and validate its technology. Houston also has a mature trucking and autonomous vehicle workforce, representing a deep talent pool for Embark to draw from as it expands its headcount in the region.
In addition, Embark noted that Texas boasts a thriving autonomous vehicle sector, due in part to the state’s extensive public-private partnerships. By engaging with developers to support the safe operation of autonomous trucks, the Texas Departments of Transportation and Public Safety have established the state to reap the safety and efficiency benefits of the technology, the company stated. Embark is a longstanding participant in the Texas Department of Transportation’s Connected and Automated Vehicle Task Force, helping prepare the Texas transportation system to take advantage of the safety and efficiency benefits of autonomous technology.
“Texas is the center of America’s trucking industry, and it’s the perfect home for Embark’s expanded operations,” Stephen Houghton, chief operations and fleet officer at Embark, said in a statement. “We’re excited by the talent and entrepreneurial spirit that Houston has to offer,”
To support Embark’s expansion in Texas, the company announced a partnership with the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) to use its state-of-the-art test track. Embark also plans to work closely with the Center for Autonomous Vehicles and Sensor Systems (CANVASS) and faculty at Texas A&M University to perform research and testing as it prepares for its driver-out pilot in 2023.
“Embark’s mission to safely, robustly, and effectively roll out commercial autonomous trucks aligns closely with TEES’ mission to turn research and development activities into useful applications and business activities,” Srikanth Saripalli, director of CANVASS, said in a statement.
The new announcement capped a key year for Embark, coming less than a month since it went public. The company expects to begin hauling freight for its partners between San Antonio and Houston as early as this year and aims for the commercial launch of its Embark Driver system in 2024.
“Our new footprint in Texas will support our growing network of partners and fuel our rapid growth across the Sunbelt,” Houghton said in a statement. “As we scale our operations, we will continue to work closely with local and state governments and other organizations so that we improve the safety, sustainability, and efficiency of trucking with autonomous technology.”