Embark gives self-driving truck to carrier Knight-Swift in pilot program

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Feb 8 (Reuters) - Self-driving truck company Embark Technology Inc (EMBK.O) on Tuesday said it was handing over a few of its trucks to Knight-Swift (KNX.N), in what the companies called the first instance of a carrier owning and operating autonomous trucks as part of its fleet.

Knight-Swift, one of the largest U.S. freight carriers operating some 20,000 trucks, will receive a "small number" of Kenworth (PCAR.O) heavy-duty trucks outfitted with Embark's self-driving technology, said Sam Abidi, Embark's head of business development.

Abidi said the Knight-Swift partnership would bring the company one step closer to the final commercial rollout.

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"The idea is if you give Knight-Swift the truck and they run it, then you're inside their duty cycle, their maintenance, their dispatchers and most importantly, their driver is behind the wheel," Abidi said.

The pilot, while limited in scale, marks a departure from the autonomous trucking industry's current operations, in which the trucks are owned, operated and maintained by the technology companies while doing limited deliveries on behalf of customers. read more

The long-term goal of the industry, which includes Embark, TuSimple (TSP.O), Aurora Innovation Inc (AUR.O) and Google's (GOOGL.O) Waymo, is for carriers and shippers to own the trucks while paying per-mile usage fees for the self-driving software. read more

Abidi said the Knight-Swift drivers will be trained to supervise autonomous trucks and Embark was developing a pre-trip truck inspection protocol. read more

The vehicles will operate along major routes in the U.S. Sunbelt, Abidi said.

Texas and Arizona have emerged as the top U.S. states for autonomous truck tests thanks to their warm weather, long, uncongested roadways and friendly regulation.

Embark declined to disclose the financial details of the partnership, and Abidi said the economics were not the focus for the pilot.

"I would argue the learnings are worth a couple multiples of the revenue you generate off if it," Abidi said.

(This story officially corrects to say Embark will train Knight-Swift drivers, not that drivers had been trained in paragraph 7)

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Reporting by Tina Bellon in Austin, Texas; Editing by David Gregorio

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