Las Vegas is not my favorite town, I have to say, and it absolutely begs not to be taken seriously. So I don’t. Frankly, I saw the State of Nevada in the same light, a place with not much to recommend it.
I’ve changed my mind.
I’m still no fan of Sin City, but I now have huge respect for the state and for its governor, Brian Sandoval. That comes after hearing him speak during last month’s launch of the autonomous Freightliner Inspiration Truck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Read more on page 26.)
Articulate and clearly committed to pushing this technology forward, he and his state have helped accomplish what once seemed almost certain to be a European breakthrough: They’ve issued the first license anywhere for an autonomously driven heavy truck.
After attending last summer’s introduction of the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 in Magdeburg, Germany, I wasn’t alone amongst my fellow journalists in making an assumption: We’d see an autonomous truck on German or Dutch or maybe Swedish roads long before we saw it here. I never heard an opposing view.
Last July, Daimler Trucks chief Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard said it would take a while to deal with the social and regulatory hurdles standing in the way of a self-driving Actros, none of which would be small, but he predicted it would be a done deal by 2025. He never mentioned the possibility that it might not happen in Europe.
The company’s North American arm isn’t naming a year when we’ll be sharing highways with self-driving trucks, and the same hurdles exist here, but I’ll bet it’s no worse than 2025. And that’s largely thanks to Nevada and its governor’s foresight and vision, especially his willingness to act.
“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 Sandoval in Las Vegas. “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.”
Nevada really is taking this very seriously and began building a regulatory structure back in 2011, realizing that it could stake a claim on the autonomous vehicle (AV) front because neither the U.S. federal government nor all but three other states had the wit to start developing any standards at all.
Nevada legislation passed that year and again in 2013 regulates the testing and operation of AVs. It includes commercial trucks and sets standards specifying the number of miles an AV must have been tested in certain conditions before it can be granted a license.
Among those rules and regs, according to Jude Hurin, driver programs manager at the Nevada Department of Transportation, is a carefully developed driver’s license, tailored to the specific autonomous car or truck to be driven.
In a seminar for reporters during the launch of the Inspiration Truck, Hurin also confirmed that the insurance industry and law enforcement officials were consulted in the process of developing AV standards. They demanded, and got, the requirement for a dedicated “black box” on AV cars and trucks in order to record the last 30 seconds before a collision.
So three cheers to both Daimler and Nevada for their vision and their willingness to push ahead, to put meat on innovation’s bones.