Knight-Swift to equip trucks with Embark’s autonomous truck tech
February 23, 2022
White-collar tech industry employees are ready to hand over the keys of autonomous trucks to blue-collar truckers.
San Francisco-based autonomous truck technology company Embark Trucks and Phoenix-based Knight-Swift Transportation are launching what they are calling a Truck Transfer Program. Rather than using Embark employees, the program will allow Knight-Swift drivers to operate the autonomous trucks during the testing phase.
According to an Embark spokesperson, Knight-Swift trucks will be equipped with Embark’s Level 4 autonomous truck technology. For the Truck Transfer Program, the Embark Driver software will run with only a subset of features available. A properly licensed and trained safety driver will be present behind the wheel at all times to ensure regulatory compliance.
Until now, Embark and other autonomous vehicle companies have been testing the technology exclusively in-house. The Truck Transfer Program allows Knight-Swift to own, maintain and deploy autonomous trucks, including using the carrier’s drivers to operate the vehicle. Despite autonomous features, state and federal laws require a qualified driver behind the wheel at all times.
Embark told Land Line there will be a transition phase in which it works with Knight-Swift drivers to train them on how to oversee the autonomous system. Knight-Swift drivers will undergo similar training to what Embark drivers complete, which includes a thorough education of the technology, driving behavior, and monitoring techniques.
Once the pilot program is running, Knight-Swift drivers will be behind the wheel of the autonomous trucks hauling Knight-Swift loads that are dispatched by Knight-Swift dispatchers and maintained by Knight-Swift mechanics.
According to Embark, the program “marks the first public initiative through which a U.S. carrier will directly own and maintain an Embark-equipped truck, and is a major step on the path to eventual purchase and ownership of Embark-equipped trucks by carriers.”
On one hand, the Truck Transfer Program does not necessarily aim to eliminate human drivers. That could be several decades down the road. On the other hand, high driver turnover rates are forcing some large carriers to rethink their business models.
“The program will help Knight-Swift determine how best to utilize its limited driver workforce to address the growing demands of the national supply chain, such as when to have drivers haul loads alongside autonomous capacity, when to have drivers team-drive with the Embark Driver, or under what circumstances to have drivers move local hauls to fulfill the last mile,” Embark said in a statement. “Overall, the program will help define the proper blend of models to apply across the network over time.”
The two companies are investigating where within the Sunbelt to deploy the pilot program. They expect the learnings to be highly transferable across the U.S. network independent of where the first tests are completed.
Embark plans to deliver the first Embark-equipped autonomous trucks to Knight-Swift for daily operations by the end of this year. LL