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Autonomous Truck Startup Embark Raises $15M, Partners With Peterbilt

by Bob Der
In February, Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues laid out some ambitious plans for his company in the months that lay ahead.

"The big thing for us is going to be hiring more people," Rodrigues told The Verge. "We're scaling up really aggressively and bringing on more people to really get into every nook and cranny of the edge cases."

That mission just got a lot easier for Embark, as the company announced July 18 that it had raised $15 million in a Series A financing round led by venture capital fund Data Collective. Also joining in the round were Maven Ventures, YC Continuity and SV Angel.

Previously, Embark's seed round included Maven Ventures, among others. The company's valuation now sits at $75 million.

Embark doesn't concern itself with building trucks or the self-driving hardware that would direct them, but rather on the underlying software and the platform that will enable them to operate autonomously. The company built its first test prototype attached to a Peterbilt 579 truck and put it on the road in Nevada last year.

At the same time the company announced its Series A financing, Embark also announced a formal partnership with Peterbilt. The trucking giant will now be building the test trucks for Embark at Peterbilt's Texas factory. The partnership will allow Embark to have trucks more customized for its platform.

The appeal of self-driving freight trucks is obvious. The absence of human drivers eliminates the need to stop for sleep, food or fuel. (They'd carry enough fuel for any given journey, refueling once they reached their destination.) Deliveries would be faster and performed with more efficiency, thereby making them considerably more profitable.

Of course, not everyone is so happy about the impending revolution in long-haul trucking.

In the US, there are 1.6 million drivers operating tractor-trailer trucks on the roads. According to NPR, it's the most common job in more than half of the 50 states. It would not be an overstatement to say that all of these people losing their jobs over the course of, say, a decade would be catastrophic to the American job market -- not to mention similar effects in other countries.

Embark, though, has no intentions of replacing truck drivers. They merely plan to use them differently. The majority of a truck's trip would be self-directed, as the truck would drive itself on the highway. For autonomous vehicles, though, many consider city driving to be a far greater challenge. To address this, drivers would pick up Embark-driven trucks at stations on the highway just outside of cities, driving them manually to drop off their freight at their final destination.

Perhaps counterintuitively, Rodrigues believes such a change would benefit drivers.

"Our expectation is that the salary for truck drivers will go up," Rodrigues said in The Verge interview. According to him, "Interactions with the customer, individual pickup and drop off, and the harder parts of truck driving," are all skills that would make drivers remain valuable in the new trucking economy.

Embark's website espouses the company's blue collar spirit. "Something critical is lost when invention becomes untethered from the garage," it reads. "While others spend billions to develop self-driving on large corporate campuses, we believe that teamwork, passion, and an intense focus on the users of our technology will win out over raw size."

Having a plan for truckers to maintain their jobs will certainly endear Embark to many currently in the industry, and such a garage mentality doesn't hurt, either. When self-driving truck companies look to take their products to the road, those with unions and drivers on their side could hold a distinct advantage.


Blockchain for Connected Vehicles: Driving Toward A More Automated Future

Blockchain technology, the same system that backs cryptocurrency transactions such as Bitcoin, has the potential to revolutionize connected vehicles and autonomous driving. Russell Vegh, principal member of the technical staff at A&T Internet of Things Solutions, will provide an in-depth overview of blockchain technology touching on key concepts such as mining, smart contracts, and decentralized applications. He will focus on how blockchain could play a key role in autonomous vehicles, V2I and V2X. He will also discuss key challenges such as device identity, information privacy and adoption.

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