Embark Trucks Inc. yesterday launched the Embark Universal Interface, which it said will enable major truck original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, to more easily integrate its technology onto their vehicle platforms. The San Francisco-based company claimed to be the first autonomous developer to pursue integration with all four major U.S. truck makers: Freightliner, International, Peterbilt, and Volvo.
Embark was founded in 2016 and said it has developed self-driving technology with the goals of making highways safer and the transport of goods more efficient. The company said its autonomous trucks have been moving freight for Fortune 500 companies using its purpose-built transfer hubs.
Embark takes a different approach to integration
The Embark Universal Interface, or EUI, is a set of standardized self-driving components and the flexible interfaces. Instead of designing to one platform, the EUI will work with all of industry leaders, said the company. That decision required an “immense amount of upfront investment and thoughtfulness around cross-platform trade-offs,” according to Embark.
In the past year, several autonomous driving system (ADS) developers and OEMs have made early-stage, non-exclusive partnerships, including TuSimple and Traton, Waymo and Daimler, Aurora and Volvo this week, and Plus and SF Express.
Embark said it decided in early 2020 to pursue a different approach with its self-driving technology. Trucking OEMs have a long tradition of offering vehicles with key components sourced from multiple suppliers, including engines, transmissions, and braking systems, in response to carrier demand. By developing a strong technology platform that can be rapidly integrated with the major brands, Embark claimed it will provide OEMs with autonomous technology that is most responsive to their carrier customers' needs.
EUI works with OEMs to deploy autonomy
The EUI stack consists of a standardized package of sensors and compute systems developed through thousands of hours of design, testing, and analysis, said the company. It also includes a set of physical, electrical, and software interfaces that enable the components to communicate with any supplier's steering, braking, throttle, telematics, power, chassis, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning).
At the center of the interface package is the Embark Gateway, an automotive-grade ECU protocol developed to enable application programming interface (API) communication between its technology and any OEM platform.
The Embark Gateway is an automotive-grade ECU designed to enable API communication between Embark's autonomy technology and any OEM platform.
The company said its long-term vision is for truck OEMs to integrate its technology with their platforms, which they will then sell with the maintenance and warranty support that carriers require. Embark added that the EUI program should benefit the freight ecosystem in both the short term and long term.
“We absolutely believe that integrating with OEMs is the path to market for self-driving trucks,” stated Alex Rodrigues, co-founder and CEO of Embark. “We also believe that being cross-compatible and easy to integrate into all OEMs' vehicles as their Level 4 platforms continue to develop gives us a competitive advantage.”
The company said the EUI program helps demonstrate the Embark Driver's compatibility with the four major OEM platforms and grow its test fleetI. Increasing Embark's truck count and fleet diversity will improve the fidelity of its test program and accelerate time to deployment, it added.
“The launch of EUI opens the door to a much larger market opportunity for Embark by making their self-driving technology platform-agnostic,” said Pat Grady, a partner at Sequoia Capital. “We've seen time and time again how the emergence of an open platform can serve as a galvanizing force in fast-developing markets, and this breakthrough technology from Embark has a chance to do the same for what's historically been a complex and fragmented industry.”
Carriers to benefit from OEM-agnostic autonomous trucks
In the long run, the EUI program will provide information about standardized sensor placement, vehicle communication protocols, telematics standardization, power management, and many other areas, said Embark. The company said this data and the associated proprietary designs will inform its partnership with each manufacturer.
In addition, Embark claimed that the EUI effort will increase the efficiency, robustness, and safety of future commercial integration programs, resulting in better products for the carriers. Most major carriers see maintaining multi-OEM fleets as a key element of their business strategy, said the company, so the development of EUI sends a strong signal to the trucking industry that it can meet their needs.
“We currently purchase trucks from multiple OEMs and plan to continue this strategy to optimize the experience for our drivers and meet our total cost of ownership [TCO] objectives,” said Trevor Fridfinnson, chief operating officer at Bison Transport. “Embark's investment to integrate its autonomous driving system with the major OEMs will allow us to test and deploy autonomous trucking capabilities without introducing a new OEM into our fleet for that sole purpose.”
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