Embark, a startup aiming to develop an autonomous retrofit system for existing trucks, issued a report Wednesday recapping its 2018 progress, of note highlighting the 124,000-plus miles its vehicles operated in semi-autonomous mode. The company also touted its work with “multiple Fortune 500 companies,” and one of those companies appears to be online retail giant Amazon and its private fleet.
Filed to Reddit this week was the post below, showing an Amazon-emblazoned trailer being hauled by one of Embark’s retrofitted semi-autonomous Peterbilts (Peterbilt has said it is not involved with Embark).
An Amazon spokesperson on Thursday wouldn’t explicitly confirm whether Amazon was working with Embark to test the autonomous platform. Instead, the company provided this statement: “We are always innovating and working with innovative companies to improve the customer experience and safety of our team. We think successful over the road autonomy will create safer roadways and a better work environment for drivers on long-haul runs.”
Likewise, Embark wouldn’t comment on the venture.
The companies declined to answer questions regarding how many Embark vehicles it was testing, what kind of freight was being hauled, the geography of the tests, how many miles of testing had been conducted with Amazon’s fleet and whether the tests would continue.
Embark’s system as of now is a Level 2 autonomous platform, meaning a truck can maintain its lane and accelerate and decelerate without the input of a human driver. Level 2 is mostly a sophisticated cruise control system designed for use on highways. Level 2 vehicles can’t make turns or negotiate passes, for instance.
However, the company says its ultimate goal is Level 4 autonomy — a high level of autonomy that still requires a human operator but requires little input. The U.S. DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says on its website that Level 4 systems “can perform all driving tasks and monitor the driving environment…in certain circumstances. The human need not pay attention in those circumstances.”
Of the SAE’s levels of automation, Level 4 is the penultimate, with Level 5 automated systems being completely driverless. For Level 5 autonomy, NHTSA notes that “human occupants are just passengers and need never be involved in driving.”
In addition to announcing its 2018 autonomous mileage total, Embark said in its 2018 recap report that between October 1 and December 31 it averaged 1,392 miles between disengagements of its system, meaning that’s how many miles the system drove in autonomous mode before drivers intervened for a “safety-related event,” Embark’s report says. It does not count instances where the drivers voluntarily ended the autonomous mode or the trip.
Embark in late 2017 announced it had partnered with Ryder and Frigidaire for testing, and in February 2018 the company announced it had completed a 2,400-mile cross-country journey on Interstate 10 in a Peterbilt retrofitted with its system.