There's not a kid in the country who, shortly after learning how to navigate on two wheels, went pedaling past the house shouting 'Look, Ma, no hands!'
Tempting though it was to use that phrase for a story headline about Daimler Truck's first autonomous commercial vehicle, the words don't quite do it justice. This is a remarkable bit of technology that combines existing hardware and some very advanced control algorithms to steer and gear this truck without any manual control input from the driver.
The system that controls the truck is called Highway Pilot. It was showcased in early May in Las Vegas on a truck (two of them, actually) called the Inspiration Truck. The truck itself is a more or less standard Cascadia with a DD15 engine and DT12 Transmission. The interior was done up in rather extravagant while leather, hardwood floors and blue accent lighting. One can forgive the company for going a little over the top; the overall achievement really is extraordinary.
HDT Equipment Editor Jim Park and Managing Editor Stephane Babcock had a 45-minute ride in the truck during the roll-out event. They captured the following video on that ride. Park wasn't permitted to the drive the truck because he had not been checked out on its full operation. (Nevada's regulations regarding autonomous vehicles, some of the few in the country, require additional training and certification for drivers.) But driver Antonio Edgar, manager of Cab Electronics Testing at Daimler's Product Validation Engineering Group, certainly knows his way around it. In the video, he explains how the driver interacts with Highway Pilot, and what a few of its advantages and limitations are.
As you'll see, the Inspiration Truck certainly not a "driverless truck" at this point; it's stepping stone toward a suite of technologies that will eventually allow autonomous or semi-autonomous control of trucks under certain conditions. There is a lot of potential in such a system, but it will be several years before systems like Highway Pilot could become commercially viable.
At the pace technology changes, who knows how much more sophisticated the system will be by then.