Engage partners with HP on Autonomus EV Trucking
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many flaws in our society, but perhaps the main one is the fragility of our supply chains. From toilet paper to bikes to wood, the virus has shown that even relatively minor disruptions in the chain can lead to long-term shortages of important goods.
In Los Angeles, a San Francisco-based autonomous trucking company is running a new pilot program with computer hardware giant HP Inc. Over the next two years, the startup wants to reduce emissions and transit times in chains. HP supply. And if it is successful, extend the model to other companies.
Founded in 2016, Embark has focused on creating fully autonomous trucks to transport goods across the United States. As part of the partnership with HP, the company has detailed plans for a pilot program that would use a mix of electric vehicles and fully autonomous trucks to transport HP equipment around Los Angeles and beyond.
The shipping strategy uses a fleet of human-driven electric trucks, in particular the BYD 8TT, to complete the first and last mile journeys: goods are transferred from an HP facility to a transfer point on an electric vehicle human-driven. Then they are transferred to a non-electric autonomous truck for the middle part of the trip. Finally, they are moved to another electric truck for delivery.
The program’s launch comes just months after Embark announced its intention to go public through a $ 5.2 billion PSPC deal. They join competitors TuSimple and Plus in the world of publicly traded autonomous trucking. The landscape is heating up and investors are taking note, but markets appear to harbor some uncertainty as to whether fully autonomous driving is possible and, if so, over what time scales.
The TuSimple share price has hovered between around $ 70 and $ 30 over the past 3 months, reflecting the incredible opportunity and challenge of autonomous driving.
Electric at the ends, autonomous in the middle.
“All of these partnerships that advance transportation options and transportation possibilities are certainly welcome. All of this is motherhood and apple pie,” said Ram Pendyala, transportation systems expert at Arizona. State University. “The question is, what is real and what is really going to make a tangible and noticeable difference.”
The pilot’s electric vehicle component, Penyala said, is a given. Switching to electric trucks for short haul trips is a simple and effective way to significantly reduce emissions. Amazon is said to be in the process of building up a fleet of 100,000 electric delivery vans with the same intention. Sam Abidi, business development manager at Embark, said their preliminary research suggests that “the use of autonomous and electric trucks can remove up to 50,000 tonnes of CO2 from HP’s supply chain over 10 years.”
Embark hopes to have fully autonomous trucks on the road as part of a pilot program as early as 2023, with commercial operations the following year.
Pendyala said it was a very optimistic timeline, but not uncommon for the booming industry. His skepticism is well supported by the history of autonomous vehicles: it appears that autonomous cars are “about three years” away for 15 years now. Google’s autonomous driving experience began in 2009 (and has now evolved into Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet), but has yet to produce a commercially available autonomous vehicle.
Tesla’s Elon Musk claimed that the automaker’s autopilot software was “fundamentally a problem solved” in 2016, and, even as late as January, suggested that a fully autonomous vehicle would be possible by end of the year – a statement that has already been repeated.
In comparison, Embark was only founded in 2016, but what can give an advantage to the company of 200 people is their singular focus on shipping. If their autonomous trucks only have to navigate highways and loading docks because human-powered electric vehicles do the work of the first and last mile, the range of scenarios they can encounter is drastically reduced.
This model depends, of course, on acceptance by regulators and drivers of the idea of driving on highways alongside an 80,000-pound vehicle with no one on board.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll see quantum leaps in the development of this technology very soon. These partnerships are going to be what will drive that forward,” Pendyala said. “For now, the human driver and human delivery people are just inevitable. Don’t hold your breath for full autonomy. It’s still far on the horizon.”
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