With Texas serving as one of America’s busiest trucking byways, it’s no surprise that the Lone Star State has also become the de facto home of autonomous trucking trials. Now, a new company called Embark is bringing its driverless semis to a route on I-10 between Houston and San Antonio, the Houston Chronicle reports.
Embark is a San Francisco-based company that has paved the way in a lot of different areas. Its website claims was the first company to complete the first coast-to-coast drive by automated truck, and it also claims that its autonomous truck could safely navigate unmapped work zones.
But it’s not the first autonomous trucking company to set up shop in Texas. Both Waymo Via Trucking and Aurora have set up autonomous test routes on I-45 between Dallas and Houston, a stretch of road that has become one of the premier autonomous trucking routes in the country.
Autonomous trucking is big in Texas because the state encourages it, as per a different article from the Houston Chronicle. Back in 2017, Texas Legislature passed a law that allowed autonomous vehicles to operate without a driver present. Later that year, the U.S. Department of Transportation called Texas one of 10 proving grounds for autonomous vehicle testing.
Big rig testing became popular thanks both to the state’s trucking infrastructure and its size. Embark’s new I-10 route covers 600 miles, which would take a human driver about 22 hours to complete. That’s due to strict rules placed on truckers by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Truckers must take a 30-minute break after they’ve driven eight cumulative hours. They’re limited to 11 to 14 hours of driving after a 10-hour off-duty stint, and they’re allowed a maximum of 60/70 hours on duty in a period of seven/eight consecutive days. Humans aren’t infallible, and maneuvering a large truck requires attention and skill.
Embark, though, claims it can knock out that 600-mile route in about 12 hours because it wouldn’t have to stop to cater to driver safety.
Whether or not Embark is actually able to hit that number remains to be seen, since self-driving technology is still in its infancy and most vehicles still require an alert, attentive driver behind the wheel.