Embark, a company focused on self-driving commercial trucking, has partnered with Ryder and Frigidaire to deliver refrigerators via self-driving semi trucks. It was part of a pilot project between the three companies, moving appliances 650 miles at a time across public roads in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The trucks are equipped with Level 2 autonomous driving systems, meaning there’s a driver behind the wheel, ready to take over at any time. The trucks used the automated driving technology on the highway, while the human took over driving duties on surface streets.
It’s a step toward solving a workforce problem beleaguering the long-haul trucking industry, according to Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues. “More than 50 percent of all drivers will retire in the next two decades and there aren’t nearly enough young drivers joining the industry to replace them,” he said. “By allowing automation to work together with local drivers to handle less desirable long-haul routes, we will be able to increase productivity to address the current 50,000 driver shortage while also creating new local driving jobs that attract younger drivers for the industry.”
It’s also a safety issue. Automating part of the driving helps to reduce driver error, which Embark notes is responsible for 94 percent of road accidents. Mitigating those risks would help reduce the 4,000 annual deaths from heavy truck accidents.
Embark, Ryder and Frigidaire plan to expand the program after the pilot, increasing the number of trucks testing along the same route.