Daimler has already shown us how the technology can work, when a Mercedes-Benz truck took to a temporarily vacant section of German autobahn last year to demonstrate its autonomy.
And now, Daimler has secured ‘licences’ for a pair of its Freightliner big rigs to embark on a testing program in the US - this time on public roads.
The two Freightliner ‘Inspiration Trucks’ (based on the Cascadia model) will take to the roads of Nevada to trial autonomous systems - dubbed ‘Highway Pilot’ by Daimler - which have been specifically tuned for US roads.
Adaptive cruise control, ‘stereo’ cameras and a front-mounted radar are all in place to assist the truck with the act of driving itself, along with existing semi-autonomous systems such as lane-keep assist and autonomous emergency braking.
Daimler has already clocked up over 16,000km in testing during what it called a ‘Marathon Run’ around a test circuit in Germany, designed to simulate highway conditions.
The driver will operate the truck in the normal fashion to steer it onto a motorway, before activating Highway Pilot mode and, presumably, kicking back to watch the truck negotiate the road and traffic.
The Inspiration can control its speed, brakes and steering while obeying speed limits and maintaining a safe following distance, but the driver will need to take control again if the truck is to change lanes in order to overtake.
Besides improving safety, Daimler claims autonomous trucks are better for the environment, as constant operation at the vehicle’s most optimum level can cut fuel consumption by up to five percent.
Five percent in thousands of trucks over many thousands of kilometres will certainly appeal to any fleet manager...
While it appears autonomous trucks will beat their smaller car cousins to market, the technology on test through this program and others will no doubt trickle through to cars someday.
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