PORTLAND, OREGON - Daimler Trucks says it’s targeting Level 4 automated driving technology – essentially skipping Level 3 because it believes it’s a safer way to go.
During Daimler Trucks’ 2018 Capital Market & Technology Day here on June 6, Peter Vaughan Schmidt, head of Daimler Trucks strategy, said Level 2 automated technology is coming soon and will be launched globally. Level 2 automated technology may help with things like lane-keeping, active steering, keeping the proper distance from vehicles ahead — but the driver still takes an active role in controlling the truck.
Next up for Daimler, however, is Level 4, Schmidt said.
Level 4 automated technologies allow the truck to take total control of the vehicle, including acceleration and braking, steering, and the ability to pull the vehicle off the road and stop if needed, all without driver assistance — but only on certain stretches of road well-suited for safe automated operation. Schmidt said this differs from Level 5 autonomous vehicles, which would be “truly driverless,” and from Level 3, which allows the driver to remove his or her hands from the wheel but still requires him to be in the seat and monitor the situation so he can take control at a moment’s notice in case of a problem.
“The value to our customer is much larger at Level 4,” Schmidt said, and even more important is the safety aspect. At Level 3, he said, the driver needs to take over within seconds, set aside his iPad, and make the fast mental switch. “So we aimed directly for Level 4.”
Daimler, he said, thinks automation can help address the driver shortage by making the work less taxing and more enjoyable, but it doesn’t believe it can solve the issue or even result in a surplus of drivers put out of work by autonomous vehicles.
“Building a real autonomous trucking product is a tough game and there’s no cutting corners. It needs to be a 100% reliable solution, not 99.5%.” It needs to work in the demanding real world of trucking, including in bad weather. The technology needs to meet customers’ needs, not just technology for the sake of “disruption,” he said.
“You want flexibility as a fleet,” he said. "You want to run all highways, not just 400 miles in the desert.”
And there’s the need to work with society for the legal framework for operational and liability issues.
Many of these challenges are similar for other levels of automation. And even lower-level automated truck operation will likely be first seen in gated areas and on rural highways, rather than in more complex city operations.
“It is a long way from a demo to a customer-viable product,” Schmidt said. Doing a demo, as some other autonomous truck companies have done, and as Daimler Trucks has done both in Europe and North America, is one thing, he said. “It’s just a demo. It’s not super difficult.
“In the end, to reach the overarching goal of improving safety, being better than a human driver, it means you need to master all situations, including fielding the unknown,” he continued.
“It’s a really tough game to come from a scientific thing to make it work in a trucking world.”
Stay tuned for more reports from HDT Editor in Chief Deborah Lockridge, who is in Portland covering this special event.