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Embark’s snowy testing conditions and other self-driving truck mileposts

Self-driving truck testing has proliferated across the sun-speckled southern U.S., but few automated driving developers have ventured into more treacherous weather conditions.

Over the past winter, Embark Trucks changed that.

The company sought out snow while testing its autonomous big rigs on a roundabout 60-mile stretch of public roads connecting the Montana towns of Clinton, Wye and Missoula. Starting in February, the trucks drove approximately 3,500 miles to test Embark’s proprietary mapping technology and collect real-world data.

In road conditions where snow accumulation reached 1 inch, Embark said its internal analysis showed it could complete 9 in 10 runs within “acceptable” delivery windows.

Details from the company’s winter testing were one of a number of developments this week across the self-driving truck realm. Among others:

  • Aurora rolled out a partnership with logistics company Covenant, which concentrates on expedited shipping. The two companies are looking at using Aurora’s self-driving system on routes where two human drivers typically are needed to meet federal hours-of-service requirements.
  • Kodiak Robotics detailed its progress in operating trucks with faulty equipment, training them to successfully pull onto the highway shoulder when problems arise.
  • Plus started a partnership with fleet solutions company Velociti that involves retrofitting Class 8 trucks with automated driving systems, software and sensors. Each retrofit is expected to take less than a day.

The trial by Embark, which separately unveiled a partnership with logistics giant U.S. Xpress this week, may be the most notable and extensive Class 8 truck autonomous snow testing in the industry to date.

Beyond the real-world miles, which were traveled with a human safety driver aboard, the collected data was used to develop a weather model that contains more than 8 billion historical weather-related data points on major interstates dating back more than 10 years.

Determining what constitutes safe thresholds for autonomous systems driving in snow remains a key question for commercial operations. For now, Embark has demonstrated an early glimpse of commercial possibilities beyond the Sun Belt.

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