"Thank you for looking at the impossible and finding a safe way to make it possible."
That's what Nevada Gov. Brian Sondoval said to Daimler Trucks North America officials when he officially granted the first license for an autonomous commercial truck to operate on an open public highway in the United States. "Today we come together to celebrate innovation, safety and the future."
Reporters from around the world were shown the new license plate with great fanfare. However, they got only a glimpse of the new autonomous truck, dubbed the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, before it drove away at the event at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Tuesday, its nose still camouflaged. A special event in the evening will bring more details.
"Never has there been such a truck on public roads until today," said DTNA President and CEO Martin Daum.
The truck left the Speedway with Gov. Sandoval as a passenger in the inaugural trip in autonomous mode, with Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler Trucks & Buses, at the controls.
“Nevada is proud to be making transportation history today by hosting the first U.S. public highway drive for a licensed autonomous commercial truck," said Gov. Sandoval. "The application of this innovative technology to one of America’s most important industries will have a lasting impact on our state and help shape the New Nevada economy.
"The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles has been closely monitoring the advancements being made in autonomous vehicle development and reviewed DTNA’s safety, testing and training plans before granting permission for this demonstration of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck.”
Nevada was selected as the demonstration location because it is one of four states, plus the District of Columbia, with laws regulating autonomous vehicle operation. Nevada legislation passed in 2011 and 2013 regulates the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles. The legislation includes commercial trucks and sets standards specifying the number of miles an autonomous vehicle must have been tested in certain conditions before it can be granted a license to be driven in Nevada.
Daimler obtained a special permit from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles to operate the Freightliner Inspiration Truck on public roads near Las Vegas after supplying state officials with detailed information on the safety systems in the truck and the training program for the drivers.
In July of last year, Daimler Trucks provided the world´s first demonstration of an autonomous truck in action when the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 drove along a cordoned-off section of the A14 autobahn near Magdeburg.
Bernhard explained that the Inspiration Truck will allow the driver to take his feet off the pedals and his hands off the steering wheel, similar to an airplane. "Still the driver still monitors and is in charge of what happens," he said in response to a reporter's question. "The system is much easier for him, is much less fatiguing, and makes his life and his job much more attractive."
A step in the future, he said, would be to get the driver off his monitoring task and allow him to do other things, he said, but that's further out.
The only infrastructure needed for efficient operation of the autonomous Inspiration Truck, Bernhard said, are good stripes and lane markings so the truck's camera can see them.
Daum emphasized that this is "the very first step" and that there will be hundreds more steps before we see autonomous vehicles being mass-produced and driving coast to coast. For one thing, he said, before that can happen, "the liability question has to be addressed by regulators, and we will bring very good arguments" to that process, he said.
Approximately 200 journalists from around the world are in Las Vegas for the event. A live feed will be streaming starting at 11 p.m. EDT/8 p.m. Pacific time.
For more information, visit www.freightlinerinspiration.com