Alex Rodrigues, 23
FOR ALEX RODRIGUES, IT ALL BEGAN WITH a robot named Muffin. while in high school in Calgary, alberta, rodrigues competed and won a world robotics championship by assembling 3-foot-high Muffin and programming him to complete a very Canadian task: “Put hockey pucks into a bin in the middle of a field.” the robots that rodrigues focuses on today are considerably bigger than Muffin. his san Francisco-based Embark trucks is creating a fleet of autonomous 18-wheelers, installing its self-driving software into existing Peterbilt semis. the vehicles are designed “specifically for highways, which is what differentiates what we’re doing,” he says. let uber or waymo figure out how to navigate congested cities. all Embark semis need to do is traverse the far less complicated interstates.
“we’re able to build a system that’s a lot simpler, a lot easier to prove that it’s safe, and then you pass it off to a human for the last little bit of the journey,” says rodrigues, who has $47 million from backers like sequoia Capital and Y Combinator.
Embark already has a handful of trucks on the road—it had five rolling in July—operating between los angeles and Phoenix. and rodrigues has ambitions to go coast to coast soon with 100 trucks. “trucking is a core piece of the u.s. economy. trucks move 70% of goods,” he says. “so if you can improve trucking, that really matters.”