US-based Embark Trucks has detailed a roadmap to develop and deploy technology that would allow Embark-equipped trucks to operate autonomously in snowy conditions. By the end of winter 2022, the company plans to have developed and publicly demonstrated a capability that leverages Embark’s Vision Map Fusion (VMF) technology to enable trucks to navigate snowy conditions autonomously.
In June 2021, Embark shared its initial Roadmap to Driver Out, detailing the 16 key technology achievements required to deploy autonomous technology in the US Sunbelt. The company claims to have already reached 11 of these milestones and plans to complete the remaining five between now and commercial deployment of its technology in 2024.
Although driving in snow is not a capability Embark identified as a requirement to commercialize its system in 2024, by continuing to develop the system for the most complex scenarios it hopes to extend its autonomous driving capabilities and position itself to continue a national expansion following its anticipated Sunbelt rollout.
To date, autonomous trucking companies have largely avoided operating in snowy conditions, as snow poses a unique challenge to the sensors and maps that autonomous vehicles rely on. Embark notes that many AV companies have built autonomous driving software that relies on HD maps to navigate the road. This type of map-reliant AV software often fails in snowy conditions because it expects that the environment it senses will closely match what is in its maps, which may no longer be true after a snowfall.
To counter this, the VMF technology allows autonomous trucks to operate even where the surrounding terrain has been altered by snowfall. The company has been conducting winter road data collection to develop enhanced perception capabilities using VMF, thus permitting operations in snowy and wet conditions. To better validate and measure the progress of the technology, Embark plans to demonstrate autonomous driving on snowy roads by the end of this winter.
“VMF is one of the main technology differentiators for Embark, designed specifically for trucks and allowing us to operate in even the most challenging road conditions. With enhancements to our perception stack, our world-class engineering team will achieve another industry-first technology milestone using VMF,” said Alex Rodrigues, CEO of Embark. “Not only is Embark executing against its existing commercialization timeline, but we’re also going above and beyond by developing technology like this to prepare for long-term deployments and growth.”