Safety & Compliance

Freightliner Maps Long Road Ahead for Autonomous Truck Technology

September 16, 2015

By David Cullen

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Hands off on the highway... Image: DTNA
Hands off on the highway... Image: DTNA

It will take rewriting a sheaf of regulations and presenting a compelling business case on safety and fuel-economy gains to fleet operators before a Level 3 autonomous truck, like the Freightliner Inspiration demonstration truck, becomes a production tractor.

That’s why Daimler Truck North America is offering no timeline to when such a truck will be available to buy.

Rather, the OEM said it will continue to incrementally increase the available automation of routine tasks for truck drivers to help make driving trucks both safer and more efficient

In other words, explained DTNA executives at a Sept. 15 media briefing in Las Vegas, technology that will enable robustly engineered autonomous driving will be built into a highway tractor progressively over time— so it will be ready when the rules of the road and the buyers of trucks are ready for it.

She described the capabilities the systems provide as “bionics for drivers,” pointing out that they enable a driver to “see” farther than their eyes can and that “they don’t get tired."

Indeed, Diane Hames, DTNA General Manager of Marketing & Strategy, stressed that the Inspiration is not a prototype but “a technology showcase” for Daimler’s autonomous truck technologies and that it remains an ongoing engineering project.

Hames also said that Daimler’s vision for autonomous technology is “not about removing drivers” from trucks, but “extending their capabilities” to operate more safely and comfortably mile after mile.

She described the capabilities the systems provide as “bionics for drivers,” pointing out that they enable a driver to “see” farther than their eyes can and that “they don’t get tired.

“This technology is not about getting rid of drivers,” she added, “but taking away the tedium of driving on the highway for hours at a time so the job is less tiring.”

During a ride and drive for journalists (which also enabled several who hold CDLs to be certified to operate autonomous vehicles within Nevada), DTNA engineers showed how intuitive it is for the truck driver to engage the Innovation’s Highway Pilot system when prompted by an electronic dash display to put the vehicle into autonomous mode, once he or she has positioned it in a highway lane.

Highway Pilot is the system that enables autonomous operation by linking the Innovation’s “camera mirrors” and long- and short-range radar inputs with other onboard systems that provide lane stability, collision avoidance, speed control, braking and steering.

Most of the technology that allows the truck to be operated autonomously is already on the market, including within the Detroit Assurance suite of safety systems offered on Freightliner Cascadia and Cascadia Evolution tractors.

A key exception is a system that uses an electro server motor to executive steering commands dictated electronically by the Highway Pilot.

“It’s the final piece that makes it an autonomous system,” Derek Rotz, DTNA Director of Advanced Engineering, NAFTA, told HDT. “But this isn’t about one technology or another. Each of the enabling systems on the truck must interact.”

Rotz also pointed out that before an autonomous truck could be offered on the market, all the technology entailed and how it operates interactively “would still need to be engineered to take into account operating in all kinds of weather and traffic conditions as well as for robustness” in continuous commercial use.

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