Autonomous trucking developer Embark Trucks is partnering with truckload carrier Knight-Swift in what the companies say is the next step forward in putting autonomous trucks on the road.
The companies will work together via a “truck transfer program” that puts Embark autonomous vehicle technology in the hands of Knight-Swift’s drivers. Until now, Embark and other autonomous driving developers have tested their technology on prototype trucks that they own and maintain, placing their own drivers behind the wheel during hauls for shippers and carrier partners, according to Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues. Now, the technology is being installed in new trucks that are on order from Knight-Swift so that the carrier’s drivers, mechanics, and technicians can work directly with the technology in the field.
“This will allow Embark and Knight-Swift to collect detailed driver feedback on the technology’s performance, define how the system will improve driver jobs, and develop procedures and tools that enable Knight-Swift to maintain, inspect, dispatch, and remotely monitor Embark-equipped trucks,” the companies said in a statement announcing the program.
Rodrigues and Knight-Swift CEO and President Dave Jackson also discussed the partnership during a presentation at the 2022 Stifel Transportation Conference this week.
“This is the next step,” in advancing autonomous trucking Rodrigues said, adding that the first Embark-equipped vehicles will be ready for use by the end of the year.
The program builds on an existing partnership between the two companies. Jackson agreed that the truck transfer program takes autonomous trucking to the next level, and said it allows Knight-Swift to hand-select drivers to learn how the technology “can help us and our business.”
The program is designed to help Knight-Swift determine how best to utilize its limited driver workforce to address growing supply chain demands, including when to have drivers haul loads alongside autonomous capacity, when to have drivers team-drive with an Embark Driver, or under what circumstances to have drivers move local hauls to fulfill the last mile, according to the companies.
“Overall, the program will help define the proper blend of models to apply across the network over time,” the companies said.