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Embark and Texas DPS Partner to Develop Best Practices for Officers to Stop Automated Trucks

Embark and Texas DPS Partner to Develop Best Practices for Officers to Stop Automated Trucks

Truck Automation Developer to board has taken a strong step into a space every truck ADS developer must navigate: how to detect, respond to, and communicate with law enforcement while traveling on public roads.

Founded in San Francisco in 2016, Embark was one of the first players to tackle heavy truck automation. Now publicly available, Embark’s stated go-to-market strategy is to build a manufacturer-independent Automated Driving System (ADS) that can be used across multiple truck brands. Carriers and shippers would choose the truck brands they prefer for their fleet and would own and operate the vehicles, using Embark’s driving technology. Embark aims to have a network of 100 highway-adjacent transfer hubs in the next five years, with their initial freight markets in the southern regions of the US, namely the Sunbelt.

Stop for an agent

When it comes to dealing with “official” vehicles, law enforcement vehicles are key. If they want you to stop, you stop. If they ask questions, you answer. This is in contrast to ambulances and fire brigades who just want you to get out of the way.

The first industry-wide document on this topic was published by the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium in 2020. Entitled “Best Practice for First Responder Interactions with Fleet-Managed ADS Driverless Vehicles,” it provides “a framework of best practices and protocols that system developers can follow to facilitate first-responder interactions across multiple use cases.”

The AVSC Best Practice is general for all types of automated vehicles. The world of automated trucks is different in many ways. Most notably, when a truck is run over, officers can demand detailed information for both the driver and the load.

There has been talk for years among truck ADS players to standardize this process for all automated trucks. This is a noble goal, but given the many layers of law enforcement (federal, state, local, toll road) that have their own ways of doing things, many saw such a process as taking years and delaying deployment.

Embark’s vision is to make the interface between the AV truck and a roadside agent so simple and intuitive that it can be learned on the spot. The implication is that other ADS developers can do the same.

An Embark spokesperson told me that their approach “is based on a broad understanding of law enforcement requirements arising from direct discussions with multiple law enforcement and regulatory agencies, as well as an assessment of industry best practices, such as those published by AVSC on interactions with first responders.”

As Embark puts it, their trucks will “identify, stop in front of, and communicate with law enforcement cars.” They work closely with the Texas Department of Public Safety (“Texas DPS”) to train Embark’s automated trucks to “identify law enforcement vehicles in situations such as traffic congestion, and to develop communication protocols and standard operating procedures between autonomous trucks and law enforcement agencies. officers.”

Step-by-step

To do this job properly, at least three steps are needed.

First, detection: Embark’s automated truck needs to identify emergency vehicle lights and other signals to slow down. The trucks must see the difference between blue lights in the opposite lane or on a service road. They need to understand which blue lights apply nearby them

Second, when it is determined that ‘they are’, a safe maneuver must be performed to stop quickly in a good location on the shoulder of the highway.

Third, once both vehicles have stopped on the side of the road, the robot and the human must communicate in some way. Embark says law enforcement “must receive this information intuitively and without additional equipment from an autonomous truck” on the law enforcement side. As law enforcement approaches the truck, he or she must be confident that the vehicle has come to a safe stop without the risk of an unexpected restart. Embark says this “may include equipping Embark trucks with clear visual cues and information to signal to law enforcement that an Embark-powered truck is an autonomous vehicle.” Embark also plans to equip trucks with a lockbox accessible to law enforcement officers containing vehicle and cargo information such as registration and waybills, as well as contact information, so law enforcement officers can reach an Embark Guardian operator to verify documentation (presumably by phone).

“Ensuring law enforcement can communicate securely and intuitively with autonomous trucks is a must for implementation,” said Emily Warren, Head of Public Policy at Embark. “Our work with Texas DPS prioritizes safety in achieving this important engineering milestone, and enables us to create a scalable emergency vehicle interaction model that can operate across Texas and the U.S. Sunbelt.”

These kinds of roadside interactions are one piece of a bigger puzzle. Truck ADS developers are working with state law enforcement officials to also define the optimal approach to truck inspection.

Being a solid road citizen

Embark’s activities announced here are the eleventh and final achievement in the 16 steps roadmap technical possibilities† Embark says they plan to publicly demonstrate this interaction between law enforcement agencies later this summer.

Other truck ADS developers are also active in this space. Aurora talked about their remote support tool that allows specialists to provide remote support when their automated vehicles encounter a situation where appropriate actions are unclear, such as interactions with law enforcement. And as to be expected, Texas DPS is also in talks with other truck ADS developers.

There was a time when “hey, the truck can drive itself!” was big news. No longer. As key automated driving features continue to evolve, AV developers are intensely focusing on every aspect of how their vehicles should interact with the environment.