This fireside chat recap is from FreightWaves’ Autonomous & Electric Vehicles Summit on Wednesday.

FIRESIDE CHAT TOPIC: Plug-and-play driverless systems 

DETAILS: Embark Trucks has the longest experience — five years — of running self-driving trucks on public highways. It is offering a bolt-on software that can go on any manufacturer’s truck. It envisions commercial fleets having the technology by 2024 — with no safety drivers. This year it announced several advancements, like solving the challenge of autonomous trucks navigating construction zones, and a SPAC that values the company at more than $5 billion.

SPEAKER:  Alex Rodrigues, CEO of Embark Trucks, chats with FreightWaves Detroit Bureau Chief Alan Adler. 

BIO: Rodrigues co-founded Embark Trucks in 2016 to apply self-driving technology to trucks. As a middle schooler in Canada, he won a world robotics championship competing against high school teams. He is a Thiel Fellowship recipient and was accepted into Silicon Valley’s premier startup incubator Y-Combinator, where he launched Embark. 


“The key thing to keep in mind is we are really focusing on building a truly commercial product. We’re not here to do tech demos but to build a product that fleets can actually use to move a meaningful amount of freight. … Embark’s focus is really on building a holistic product from driver to a remote monitoring and dispatch system that our carrier partners can actually use to move freight at scale.”

“One of the pieces that ends up being really important is being able to be compatible with the manufacturers that they care about … and to build out a direct relationship with the fleet … so they have a person to call at Embark when they’re managing and dispatching the vehicle [the same way they do with the different OEMs they work with]. That is really important as a value proposition for us to really be a partner with the fleet as opposed to sort of a supplier based on a single OEM. Delivering that is a lot of work. It sounds simple when you say plug-and-play, but it’s pretty complicated to make work. Embark has already taken many of the big steps to make that happen. We demonstrated pilot trucks that have the same system in terms of a sensor module and compute module running across all the major OEMs.”

“We’re really excited to have Knight-Swift as an anchor investor in our latest round of funding. It’s a huge vote of confidence from somebody we have a huge amount of respect for, not only because they are a large fleet, but because they’re a very sophisticated fleet with industry-leading technology programs. … I see big fleets being a big part of Embark’s story, but also Werner Enterprises, Bison Transport, Mesilla Valley, all of whom work with Embark today. When we look at the business model of partnering with big fleets, we see that as being a real advantage compared to other folks who are trying to be their own fleet or be their own manufacturer.”