Embark Trucks completes industry-first autonomous testing in winter conditions

Embark Trucks Inc., a developer of autonomous technology for the trucking industry, announced Monday, May 9, that it has successfully completed on-road testing in snowy conditions in Montana.

The testing, which Embark announced earlier this year, was conducted to demonstrate the performance  of Embark’s patent-pending Vision Map Fusion (VMF) technology in regions that experience severe winter weather. According to a statement from Embark, results from the testing demonstrate that in about 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 in varying winter weather situations. In addition to on-road testing, Embark developed a comprehensive weather model using more than8 billion historical weather data points, dating back over 10 years on all major U.S. routes, to analyze the impact of snow at a lane level across the U.S.

Testing was conducted to demonstrate the performance and safety of Embark’s patent-pending Vision Map Fusion (VMF) technology.

The testing and weather analysis show significant technical and commercial promise, according to Embark. The company’s testing and performance review indicated VMF worked within tolerance thresholds for safe operation in snowfall rates up to 1/6 inch per hour and with snow accumulation of 1 inch on the road over three hours — conditions that cover most of the snowy weather based on Embark’s analysis. 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. 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 to account for associated considerations such as ice formation, sleet and heavy winds.

According to the company statement, 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 able to fill in the gaps and mitigate the uncertainty created by accumulating snow on the roadway, unlocking critical shipping lanes and increasing uptime in areas where inclement weather can hamper operations.

Embark plans to expand its autonomous driving capabilities and continue its northward national expansion following its anticipated Phase I Sunbelt rollout in 2024. Throughout the testing process, Embark worked with various 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 U.S. 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.”

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