Navigating Highway Work Zones with the Embark Driver

We’ve developed an industry-first system for our automated trucks to identify, plan for, and safely navigate one of the highway’s most frequent obstacles.

ny experienced driver can tell you that driving under normal conditions is the easy part, and what separates good drivers from bad is how they adapt when road conditions change. Work zones, lane closures, and road construction are common occurrences that require drivers to be alert, attentive, and adaptable. As Embark works to develop an autonomous truck that can improve the safety and efficiency of the trucking industry, we know the same is true for our technology.

Today, Embark is releasing an industry-first video of an automated truck recognizing and responding to a closed lane in a highway work zone, as well as announcing our first-of-its-kind collaboration with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) to share work zone information and promote the safe interaction between autonomous vehicles and work zones. We believe these achievements represent an unprecedented and critical step toward realizing the safety and efficiency benefits of autonomous trucks.

Drive Like a Human

A human driver may have driven a route many times and have a good memory of what to expect. Still, when making real-time driving decisions, that human driver must prioritize what they see on the road, with an understanding that things may have changed since the last time they passed through.

Embark trucks are built from the ground up to deliver the adaptability needed for true autonomous operation. The Embark Driver has a unique architecture known as Vision-Map Fusion that uses information from cameras, lidar, and radar sensors to update it’s onboard map in real-time and safely understand, plan, and navigate through unexpected road conditions. While familiarity with the route is helpful — in the Embark Driver’s case provided through 3D maps — a static understanding of the road can never provide the adaptability needed for true autonomous driving on our constantly changing highways.

Through the Eyes of a Self-Driving Truck

One of the most common scenarios we encounter on highways is a work zone, which can force lane changes by closing shoulders and lanes. In many instances, these can go up quickly, and won’t be reflected in mapping data.

In this video you can see our truck detecting an unanticipated work zone in real-time and changing lanes to avoid it — this is the first time an automated truck has shown this capability publicly:

This clip was recorded during testing, which includes a properly trained and licensed driver behind the wheel and actively monitoring the road. Like a human driver, the Embark Driver notices the cones and can read the oncoming signs to determine that a lane closure is imminent.

The Embark Driver uses the truck’s sensors to see cones and read signs, determining that the right lane has been closed ahead as part of a work zone.

The truck then plans for and acts on the new work zone information by starting to look for an appropriate opportunity to change lanes.

The Embark Driver determines a new trajectory to change lanes with the understanding that soon its current lane will be closed.

Ultimately, the truck is able to safely merge into the adjacent lane, avoiding the work zone, and moving with the flow of traffic.

Working Closely with Our Partners

Work zones are a constant part of the highway landscape. Yet despite clear and consistent signage, the unanticipated nature of many work zones can lead to tragedy when combined with a human driver who is distracted, inattentive, or fatigued. In Arizona alone, there were 971 work zone crashes and 17 preventable fatalities in 2018. The Embark driver never gets distracted by a text message or sleepy after long stretches of monotonous road. We believe technology like this will significantly improve highway safety.

That’s why today, Embark and the State of Arizona announced a Memorandum of Understanding to promote the continued safe interaction between autonomous trucks and highway work zones in the state. The collaboration provides for information sharing and mutual cooperation so that Embark and ADOT can work together to elevate work zone safety. We firmly believe that maximizing the safety benefits of autonomous trucks requires not just excellent technology, but also strong and transparent collaboration with government stakeholders.

We are excited to continue to develop the capabilities of our system, as well as work together with ADOT on promoting work zone safety both within the autonomous vehicle industry and broadly to the general public.

To learn more, visit us at embarktrucks.com

Co-Founder and CEO at Embark