Alex Rodrigues, 23

Forbes - - 30 UNDER 30 - —Amy Feld­man, Alan Ohns­man, Joann Muller and Lau­ren Aratani

co­founder, em­bark

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.”

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