Embark has huge ambitions to expand its fleet of autonomous semi-trucks from 5 to 100, and now, with a $40 million (CAD) Series B investment led by Sequoia Capital, that vision has wheels. Three years after the company was initially founded by Alex Rodrigues and Brandon Moak as Varden Labs at the University of Waterloo, the San Francisco-based company has raised a total of $60+ million in funding and established major partnerships.
Embark is changing the way we think about the transportation industry, by bringing us closer to vehicle autonomy. Having completed the first ever coast-to-coast test run by a self-driving truck earlier this year between Florida and Los Angeles, Embark has partnerships in place with semi-truck manufacturer Peterbilt and also secured a deal with Electrolux to haul loads daily between Ontario and Phoenix.
Autonomous trucks are particularly useful because they are able to operate 24 hours a day, without human limitations. Due to a shortage of truck drivers, an average of 50,000 trucks in the U.S. were unable to operate without drivers last year, and the demand for products delivered by semi-trucks continues to increase. The solution is self-driving trucks. Embark’s technology enables self-driving to tackle the long haul stretches of open interstates between cities where professional drivers are most vulnerable to distraction and drowsiness. Taking the freeway scenarios out of their hands should eventually mean that drivers can do more loads per day, increasing efficiency, cutting costs and addressing the demand for trucking that is outpacing driver supply. Embark’s trucks, which are equipped with lidar sensors, cameras, radars and computing systems, do not require advance mapping of all U.S. roads, which will cut down the time it takes to bring the product to market.
“Trucking in the U.S. is, dollar-wise, worth about twice as much as all of software. All of software is worth about $350 billion and trucking is about twice that. And even just the long-haul, sole load piece of trucking that Embark is focused on is about $350 billion.” – Pat Grady, Partner at Sequoia Capital
Embark’s goal is to tackle the southwestern portion of the I-10 freeway, a large commercial trucking corridor. Embark’s fleet carries loads mainly between Ontario, California (a Los Angeles suburb) and Phoenix, though it’s expanding into Texas, and will eventually operate on the I-10 all the way to Florida. “We’re creating a proof of concept fleet, building up to 100 trucks, and we’re vertically integrating all of that to move very quickly during this period to get as rapidly as possible to a point where we can show ‘here’s a Class 8 truck that can operate completely safely all on its own moving freight,’” said Alex.
Since his junior high school class, Alex has been fascinated with robotics. In 2009, he won the High School World Robotics Championship in Atlanta. At the University of Waterloo, Alex continued with his robotics passion, studying Applied Science and Mechatronics Engineering. Alex and Brandon Moak both lived at the Velocity Residence, and in Spring of 2015, took home the $25,000 prize at the Velocity Fund Finals for Varden Labs and their autonomous shuttles for campuses. As undergraduate students, the two built an autonomous golf cart, along with Mechatronics classmate Michael Skupien.
The commercial potential for autonomous vehicle software is huge, and Embark says it can combat the driver shortage by creating customized software for long-haul routes, where drivers are especially hard to find. The promise is efficiency and Embark is confident they will deliver the perfect solution.