HANOVER, GERMANY -- Daimler Trucks rolled back the curtain a little further on the autonomous commercial vehicle it revealed for the first time in July. The truck, and the self-driving concept, is being developed as part of Daimler Trucks' "Shaping Future Transportation" initiative to conserve resources, reduce emissions and to ensure traffic safety through vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle communications.
In July, we saw the truck operating at highway speeds on an as-yet unopened section of the A14 motorway in Magdeburg, Germany, carefully camouflaged so as not to reveal the distinct lines and shape of the truck. In revealing the truck for the first time publicly -- in advance of the 2014 International Commercial Vehicle show (IAA) in Hanover -- Sven Ennerst, chief engineer of Daimler Trucks, told the press, "Intelligence is the line that is not even there."
The shape of the cab is quite a departure from the company's flagship Actros model, but the beauty of the truck goes well beyond skin deep.
"If technology is the heart of this truck, then design is the soul," said Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler Trucks and Buses. "All the sophistication and function of the truck are fully integrated into a very beautiful package."
The heart Bernhard referred to is the Highway Pilot system, which resembles the autopilot on an aircraft, he says. While not necessary for autonomous operation, it further extends the truck's safety systems and helps it interact with other nearby vehicles as well as the roadway itself.
It uses a combination of stereo cameras, long- and short-throw, and wide and narrow angle radar to see the world around it.
A radar sensor in the lower area of the front end scans the road ahead at long and short range. The front radar sensor has a range of about 750 yards and scans an 18-degree segment. The short-range sensor has a range of about 200 feet and scans a 130-degree segment. The radar sensor is the basis for the proximity control and emergency braking safety systems already available today.
A stereo camera installed above the instrument support behind the windshield keeps the area ahead of the vehicle in view. This is currently the location of a mono-camera if a lane-departure warning system is used. The range of the stereo camera is 100 yards and it scans an area of 45 degrees horizontally and 27 degrees vertically.
The stereo camera of the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 identifies single- or two-lane roads, pedestrians, moving and stationary objects, all objects within the monitored area and also the road surface. The camera recognizes everything that contrasts with the background, and is able to measure clearances precisely. The front stereo camera also registers the information on traffic signs and lane markings for autonomous lane guidance.
The road surface to the left and right of the truck is monitored by radar sensors installed on the left and right sides, ahead of the tractor's drive axle. The sensors have a range of 60 yards and cover an angle of 170 degrees in the longitudinal direction. This system, called Blind Spot Assist, covers the area parallel to the truck over the entire length of the combination, and warns the driver about other road users when turning or changing lanes.
Daimler Trucks says it's planning to roll out the Blind Spot Assist system "over the next few years," and calls it a major step toward paving the way for the Future Truck 2025.
The Highway Pilot is also ideally partnered with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) networking. Every vehicle so equipped will transmit continuous information to its surroundings, including vehicle position and model, dimensions, direction of travel and speed, as well as acceleration and braking maneuvers.
You don't often hear the words "sensual purity" used to describe a heavy duty truck, but that's how Gorden Wagener, global head of design at Daimler Trucks, described the 2025 Future Truck.
"It's a vision of sensual purity," he said. "The soft, slightly curved surfaces that are near-natural represent both efficiency and emotion. Inside and outside, the exceptional visual appearance symbolizes the great leap from classic truck to autonomous transport vehicle of the future."
The designers have leveraged the opportunity presented by future length specifications (expected to be increased moderately in Europe in the not too distant future) by extending the front section to improve aerodynamics. This lends itself to flowing lines and contours rather than the sharp curves we see today.
At first glance, it almost seems to be seamless, as if made of a single piece of material. Absent, however, are the traditional headlights. Instead, this truck uses LED lights that shine through the paint, but glow in different colors depending what the truck is doing. Orange flashing lights indicate when the truck is changing direction. When the truck is controlled manually and moving, the lights are white. When the truck is driving autonomously the lights changes from white to blue and pulsate to indicate the vehicle's current operating mode to other road users.
Gone too are the side mirrors, replaced by aft-facing long and wide angle cameras that display on two 12-inch screens located on cab's the A-pillars.
Inside, the cab is more like a modern paperless office than the cab of a transport truck. Gone is the traditional dashboard, replaced by a dockable tablet computer. The central cluster on what would be the A-panel displays information such as road speed and direction along with information from the guidance system. There's really no need for traditional displays of oil pressure and coolant temperature, as they are all managed internally anyway.
The "doghouse" is gone too, leaving a flat floor for ease of access to the driver's seat. The passenger seat is replaced by what Wagener described as a lounge chair for the driver's relaxation time. The bed is located high up in the sleeper compartment as they typically are in Europe.
The accompanying images show a rather fanciful white leather seat and hardwood floors, which while attractive and upscale, could prove a bit hard to keep clean in such an environment.
But it is a prototype after all, and Daimler is certainly to be lauded for taking the initiative on such technology. They could certainly be forgiven for taking the front office idea a bit over the top. But hey, if I was driving the thing and had all that time on my hands, I'd certainly relish a comfortable environment.