This is the new self-driving company taking on Uber’s Otto

Johana Bhuiyan
Driverless trucks rev up

Add another self-driving startup to your growing list of self-driving startups.

Embark, a self-driving trucking startup backed by Maven Ventures, launched out of stealth on Friday with the goal of easing the pains of long-haul trucking. When it's up and running, the system will take over for truck drivers on the highway and return control when the driver needs to exit.

Sound familiar? That's because Otto, the self-driving trucking startup Uber acquired in August 2016, has the same premise.

Embark, which was previously called Varden Labs and launched out of Y Combinator, has already gained state approval to test its semi-autonomous vehicles on public roads in Nevada.

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Embark co-founder and CEO Alex Rodrigues is no stranger to the world of robotics. Rodrigues and his co-founder Brandon Moak dropped out of the University of Waterloo to work on self-driving shuttles for college campuses in 2015.

The company has since shifted its focus to the trucking industry, where there's a big opportunity for automation.

For one, it's relatively simpler to develop autonomous technology that navigates highways, as opposed to local roads, because there are far fewer variables.

There's also a clear path to commercialization.

There's a huge benefit in providing a means for a long-haul driver to rest by handing off control to the autonomous system. At least initially, the Embark system (like Otto's) still requires a driver to take over when exiting the highway.

To be sure, it's likely the company will eventually hope to ease that shortage by fully automating trucks. For now, though, Embark is focused on increasing the productivity of each driver, rather than eliminating them.

"The American Transportation Research Institute estimates there is currently a shortage of 100,000 truck drivers in the industry, which is poised to only get worse as baby boomer drivers — the bulk of the industry's workforce — retire over the next decade," Rodrigues said in a statement. "Embark's goal is to increase productivity per driver and prevent the shortage from becoming a crisis."

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