Embark And Texas Law Enforcement Simulate The Real Thing

Automated truck developer Embark has announced the completion of a public demonstration of its emergency vehicle interaction capability. Working closely with the Texas Department of Public Safety (“Texas DPS”) and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office (“TCSO”), Embark developed the capability for Embark-powered trucks to identify and stop for law enforcement vehicles in situations such as traffic stops , and built communication protocols and standard operating procedures between automated trucks and law enforcement officers.

Embark calls this the first-ever public demonstration of an autonomous truck being pulled over by law enforcement and participating in a routine traffic stop on a public highway. Embark’s video of the capability in action can be viewed here.

As I discussed in a recent article, Embark has created a technical capabilities roadmap which details sixteen capabilities they have determined are required to commercially deploy automated trucks in the US Sunbelt. The emergency vehicle interaction capability represents the next milestone achieved by the company, the twelfth technical milestone on its roadmap.

“The ability to engage safely in emergency vehicle interactions is necessary to operate an autonomous vehicle on public roads,” said Emily Warren, Head of Public Policy at Embark Trucks. “Law enforcement always needs to be able to stop a commercial vehicle – autonomous or not – to ensure compliance with the law. This capability was designed to work seamlessly within existing law enforcement workflows, without requiring new training or technology investment by first responders.”

Embark’s emergency vehicle interaction capability consists of two key components:

  • The technical ability of the Embark-powered trucks to identify emergency vehicles via lights and other cues, and then respond accordingly by pulling over safely onto highway shoulders.
  • establishing an interaction procedure with input from law enforcement that can enable any law enforcement officer to safely stop, approach, and receive information from an autonomous truck intuitively and without any additional equipment.

When commercially deployed, Embark says this effort may include outfitting their trucks with clear visual cues and information to signal to law enforcement and other first responders that an Embark-powered truck is an automated vehicle and has come to a safe stop with no risk of restarting unexpectedly.

Embark’s externally accessible lockbox, containing information such as registration and bills of lading, as well as a toll-free number to contact an Embark Guardian support technician, are also included in the company’s plans to assist law enforcement officers as they perform roadside traffic stops. Embark sees these features as representing a comprehensive process for Embark-powered trucks to comply with law enforcement requests, emulating the behavior of a human-driven truck responding in similar situations.

To develop this capability, Embark, TCSO, and Texas DPS conducted comprehensive data collection and testing from April to June this year that included closed-course activity at the Texas A&M University RELLIS Campus test track.

The public road demonstrations occurred in June on Texas State Highway 130 near Austin. Deputies from the TCSO’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement division followed an Embark-powered truck along a designated route and successfully completed a traffic stop of the Embark truck. A deputy was able to confirm the truck was safe to approach via an external status display on the side of the truck. The deputy then walked through the procedure of accessing the truck’s documentation via an external lockbox, using a code that would be provided by a remote Embark Guardian support technician. The demonstration concluded after the deputy completed his traffic stop and followed the truck as it re-entered highway traffic.

Embark published a white paper detailing this procedure and how it can be replicated in other jurisdictions. A link to the white paper is available here.

For every truck automation company’s go-to-market “do list,” establishing a straightforward, reliable, and effective law enforcement interaction has now become an essential component.

With all the progress made to enable trucks to drive themselves, the job is not done until developers have addressed the nitty gritty of “making it real” in everyday trucking operations. I see this demonstration as one more step in a meticulous but essential journey to making automated trucking a reality in moving tomorrow’s freight.

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