Embark Trucks, Inc., a developer of autonomous technology for the trucking industry, announced the successful completion of on-road testing in snowy conditions in Montana. The testing, which Embark announced earlier this year, was conducted to demonstrate the performance and safety of Embark’s patent-pending Vision Map Fusion (VMF) technology in geographies that experience severe winter weather.
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.
Beginning in February, the company’s testing in Montana utilized Embark-powered trucks traveling on a 60-mile round trip route on public roads between Clinton and Missoula, Montana, in varying winter weather situations.
In addition to on-road testing, Embark developed a comprehensive weather model using over 8 billion historical weather data points – dating back over 10 years on all major US routes – to analyze the impact of snow at a lane level across the U.S.
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 inches per hour and with snow accumulation of 1 inch on the road over three hours, conditions that cover the vast majority of snowy weather based on Embark’s analysis.
The favorable test results, according to Embark, 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 one in five runs will experience some snowy conditions, according to the company.
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.
Embark's proprietary, patent-pending VMF technology has enabled this progress by moving beyond lidar-centric mapping and localization solutions. By relying heavily on the camera-based sensing modality in snowy conditions, while also understanding and accounting for the degraded states of lidar returns and map conditions, VMF is capable of filling in the gaps and mitigating the uncertainty created by accumulating snow on the roadway, unlocking critical shipping lanes and increasing uptime beyond the Sunbelt where inclement weather can hamper operations.
Embark plans to expand its class-leading autonomous driving capabilities and continue its northward national expansion following its anticipated Phase I Sunbelt rollout in 2024. Throughout this testing process, the company worked with a number of partners to better understand the impacts of inclement weather on truck uptime and dispatching, gaining a deep appreciation for the difficult driving conditions that truck drivers must navigate on a regular basis during US winters.
“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.”