Large warehouses are opening up in remote places. Longer, out-of-the-way trips are required when cross-country trucks travel to and from these destinations. One driverless truck company Embark, who call themselves a “developer of autonomous technology for the trucking industry,” is partnering with commercial real estate developer Alterra Property Group to create driverless truck hubs across the country.
This collaboration shows how important trucks are in industrial real estate, and how dependent they are on pit-stops across the country.
These transfer point sites across the sunbelt of the country will roll out when Embark deploys its trucks in 2024. They created the industry’s first transfer point in 2019, and their goal is to have 100 transfer points across the country to provide maintenance and fleet management for autonomous trucks.
Trucking is an $800 billion industry in the U.S. In 2019 the company raised a $70M series C financing, with a round led by Tiger Global. As Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues wrote: “Our customers rely on truck drivers to navigate their yards, load freight, and process paperwork; distribution centers aren’t going to change these practices anytime soon.”
With their research, Rodrigues and his team believe autonomy will be the most impactful change to the trucking industry in this century. “It’s a transportation product that will cut costs and transit times in half and prevent thousands of fatalities every year caused by distraction and fatigue on US highways,” he wrote.
Sam Abidi, Chief Commercial Officer at Embark, spoke to Leverage.com about testing these trucks, long-haul drives, and why they’re the future.
Image provided by Embark Trucks
Why are autonomous trucks the future of industrial real estate?
Unlike human-driven trucks which drive directly from origin to destination, regardless of road complexity, autonomous trucks will pick-up — and drop-off — loads at terminals located near the highway in major markets. This approach enables autonomous trucks to focus on the easier-to-handle highway portion of the long haul, leaving the local moves from the terminal to the origin/destination for human drivers who are well equipped for intricate city driving.
Why do you think this model will actually work?
With this model, the market transitions from human-driven capacity to autonomous capacity, and there will be a growing need for highway adjacent land that can accommodate these autonomous truck transfers. This makes real estate an integral part of scaling autonomous trucks as companies like Embark add sites to their nationwide coverage maps.
Why was it important for you to partner with industrial firm Alterra, specifically?
Industrial outdoor storage, and more specifically truck parking, is a specialized type of real estate. Alterra is a leader in this market, with a portfolio focused exclusively on industrial outdoor storage. They also understand the growing importance of this asset class to our national supply chain. These facts taken with their existing portfolio and focused private equity funds, together totaling more than $1.5 billion, make them perfectly suited to help build out a network of terminals across the sunbelt.
Over 100 transfer points are going to be planted across the country. What will they look like and how will they be protected and safe? I imagine it in my mind like a pit stop parking lot that’s only accessible to the trucks.
The sites that make up the Embark Coverage Map will range from purpose-built properties like those being pursued in partnership with Alterra, to existing carrier terminals to shipper facilities. The sites will vary in amenities, but features such as gates, fencing, fueling and light maintenance can be expected. Through our work with Ryder, we are actively working through what exactly will be needed at each different facility type.
For the uninitiated, how extensively have these trucks been tested?
Very. Safety is at the heart of Embark’s culture, and we’re proud to have one of the best safety records in the industry. Embark-powered trucks have driven well over a million miles without a single DOT-reportable incident. Currently, we always have a properly licensed and trained safety driver behind the wheel to ensure regulatory compliance when we operate our trucks.
How are you assuring the public that the project will be successful, based on your extensive research?
Embark has performed numerous deep network analyses with our shipper and carrier partners to determine both the optimal usage of autonomous freight within their individual networks, as well as the key geographic freight hubs nationwide. Each potential transfer point site will be selected based on a variety of factors, such as utilization, size of freight market, and location on long-haul trucking routes, to ensure that we deliver the optimal experience for our carrier partners who will run Embark-equipped trucks between these points.
Image provided by Embark Trucks
How are you working with truck drivers?
At Embark, we have a team of industry-leading safety drivers that are behind the wheel when we operate our autonomous trucks. They have been a critical part of our team since day one and will continue to provide input on our technological development as we grow and deploy commercial autonomous trucks.
How can a hybrid model of truck drivers and autonomous vehicles benefit truck drivers in the long run?
At Embark, we believe that our autonomous trucks will work alongside human drivers, supplementing their efforts and making the total system more effective and safer. Embark’s operating model is designed to apply autonomous driving technology to the grueling long-haul drives where humans struggle with distraction and fatigue, enabling truckers to pursue more desirable regional and short-haul jobs that enable them to stay closer to family. Embark is currently working closely with carrier partners to determine how best to utilize their limited driver workforce alongside autonomous to fulfill the unmet demand of our growing national supply chain.