A former Waterloo Engineering student is giving up his 2022 salary and bonus at the multi-billion-dollar autonomous trucking company he co-founded to support youth robotics and STEM education.

Alex Rodrigues, who left the mechatronics engineering program at Waterloo to pursue his passion for self-driving vehicles in Silicon Valley, is CEO of Embark Trucks, which went public last year with an approximate valuation of US $5 billion.

At the time, shares held by Rodrigues and Brandon Moak, his former classmate and fellow founder at Embark, made them both worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Rodrigues was a keen robotics competitor as a boy and with Moak built an autonomous golf cart – the first self-driving vehicle in Canada – after the duo met at Waterloo.

Early start 'played a pivotal role'

In a memorable event on campus in 2015, Rodrigues drove former University president and vice-chancellor Feridun Hamdullahpur around the Ring Road in the cart.

“My early start in competitive robotics played a pivotal role in founding Embark,” Rodrigues said in a media release.

“With supportive mentors as a child, I was able to build my first robots and organize my own robotics team. Now, my mission is to pay that forward.”

His foregone salary will be used to launch Little Robots, a grant fund meant to inspire young people to pursue technology and give them a head start on careers in the field. It will begin taking applications from groups and individuals March 25.

Building a network of self-driving trucks

The program’s first beneficiary is the Afghan Girls Robotics Team. Nicknamed the Afghan Dreamers, the team has won numerous international robotics competitions.

Members have also applied their skills to pressing needs in their home country, such as building low-cost ventilators for COVID-19 patients from used car parts. Team members relocated in Qatar after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.

The young entrepreneurs at Embark, which is based in San Francisco, are out to build a network of autonomous transport trucks that haul goods faster, cheaper, safer and with less environmental impact using its self-driving software.

Photo: Alex Rodrigues, left, and Brandon Moak are co-founders of Embark Trucks.