Freightliner's new Cascadia now features Level 2 automation.

Freightliner's new Cascadia now features Level 2 automation.

Photo courtesy Daimler Trucks North America

Daimler Trucks North America announced it’s now offering the first SAE Level 2 automated truck in series production in North America with the latest enhancements to the Freightliner new Cascadia for the 2020 model year. Level 2 automation means the truck is capable of both lateral (steering) and longitudinal (acceleration/deceleration) control – but Daimler also wants to put Level 4 automated trucks on North American roads this year.

The company made the announcement during the CES electronics show in Las Vegas Monday, Jan. 7, where parent company Daimler Trucks also announced additional investment in automation – and that it’s reassessing truck platooning after testing “currently shows no business case” for the technology on new aerodynamic trucks.

Automating acceleration, deceleration, and steering reduces the chance for human error, mitigates collisions, and can potentially save lives, DTNA said. These technologies can also enhance the driver experience by making the truck-driving task easier.

The move is backed by parent company Daimler Trucks, which announced at CES an investment of over half a billion dollars and more than 200 new jobs in its global push to put highly automated trucks (SAE Level 4) on the road within a decade. Most of these jobs will be located at the new Daimler Trucks Automated Truck Research & Development Center at DTNA’s headquarters in Portland, Oregon.

Daimler officials talk automation at CES.

Daimler officials talk automation at CES.

Photo by Jim Park

Automation for Safety, Driver Experience, and Efficiency

In 2015, DTNA showed off its automated driving technology with the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, a concept truck that was the first automated truck licensed to operate on U.S. public highways.

The 2020-model-year new Cascadia introduced today delivers SAE Level 2 driving capabilities with the optional Detroit Assurance 5.0 suite of camera- and radar-based safety systems. This new, proprietary system can accelerate, decelerate, and steer independently. Level 2 autonomous Cascadias will be in production in July 2019, according to DTNA CEO Roger Nielsen, predicting that the truck will be "an American success story."

The Detroit Assurance 5.0 Adaptive Cruise Control and Active Lane Assist features make automated driving possible in all speed ranges:

• Adaptive Cruise Control to 0 mph: Improves safety, efficiency, and driver comfort by automatically decelerating and accelerating to maintain a safe following distance. This technology is especially important for maintaining a comfortable driving experience in congested traffic conditions, where repeated braking, accelerating and resetting of traditional cruise control can lead to driver fatigue.

• Active Lane Assist: Consists of Lane Keep Assist and Lane Departure Protection. When Adaptive Cruise Control is enabled, Lane Keep Assist supports the driver by using micro-steering movements to keep the new Cascadia centered in its detected lane. With Lane Departure Protection, if the truck begins to drift without the turn signal engaged, the system will counter steer the truck back into its lane and give an auditory and visual warning.

In addition to Level 2 automated driving features, the Detroit Assurance 5.0 active safety and advanced driver assistance systems are designed to keep truck drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists safe:

• Active Brake Assist 5.0: The fusion of Detroit Assurance 5.0 camera and radar technology detects moving pedestrians and cyclists in front of the truck and can deploy full braking, which Daimler says is an industry first. It can also detect and mitigate a collision with full braking on moving and stationary vehicles and objects.

• Side Guard Assist: Detects objects, including pedestrians and cyclists, in the passenger-side blind spot for the tractor and a full-length 53-foot trailer (another industry first, according to the company) and delivers an audible and visual warning.

“The enhancements we’ve made to Detroit Assurance have the potential to make an immediate, measurable and positive impact on overall North American road safety,” said Kelly Gedert, director of product marketing for Freightliner and Detroit. “In fact, fleets with trucks equipped with forward collision mitigation systems can experience a 60% to 80% reduction in rear-end crashes, resulting in potentially fewer accidents and reduced operational costs to our customers.”

Detroit Connect Analytics will provide fleets with analysis and key insights on the performance of the new Detroit Assurance 5.0 safety features. Fleets will be notified if drivers have their hands off the wheel for longer than 60 seconds.

Aerodynamic and Powertrain Efficiency Gains

The new Cascadia also features one of the industry’s most efficient designs, according to DTNA, with a 35% improvement in fuel efficiency compared to the first Cascadia introduced in 2007.

Aerodynamic enhancements to the new Cascadia include Aerodynamic Height Control. This electronically lowers the suspension height at 55 mph to optimize airflow over and under the front of the truck and reduce drag.

In addition, the truck features Michelin X Line D+ Energy tires, developed in collaboration with Michelin, which reduce rolling resistance in 6x4 applications, and a low ground clearance bumper.

Another critical component of the new Cascadia’s performance is its Integrated Detroit Powertrain, a combination of a proprietary heavy-duty engine, transmission, and axle designed work together for maximum efficiency. The integrated powertrain features Intelligent Powertrain Management 6, which uses the truck’s kinetic energy to automatically adjust to the truck’s surroundings by reducing braking power and making transmission and engine adjustments, saving fuel and reducing wear and tear on components.

For fleets concerned with fuel economy, Detroit Connect Analytics will also introduce new Intelligent Powertrain Management reporting capabilities, and the fuel analysis will indicate if the vehicle is using Aerodynamic Height Control.

Automation Investment, Platooning ‘Reassessment’

The next step, Daimler said, is jumping from Level 2 to Level 4, and in fact Martin Daum, Daimler Truck & Bus chief, told the press at CES that Daimler wantsto put Level 4 automated trucks on North American roads this year.

In commercial trucking, level 4 is the natural next step after level 2, so the company is skipping the intermediate step of conditionally automated driving (level 3). Level 3 automated driving does not offer truck customers a substantial advantage compared to the current situation, as there are no corresponding benefits to compensate for the technology costs, contends the company.

Highly automated trucks (level 4) offer enormous advantages in many areas, Daimler said. “They enhance safety in traffic thanks to a redundancy of systems and a multitude of sensors and systems that never get tired or lose attention – because today, a great majority of accidents are still due to human error,” the company said in a press release. “Level 4 highly automated trucks also improve efficiency and productivity, among other things, through higher utilization of the vehicles – practically around the clock. They also make it possible to travel during light traffic times, for example at night, and thus avoid traffic jams by intelligent route management.”

Daimler Trucks also officially announced that it is reassessing its view on platooning. Daimler Trucks defines platooning as the electronic coupling of two or more trucks with significantly reduced distance between them to, in theory, improve aerodynamics and therefore save fuel. Daimler Trucks has tested platooning for several years, especially in the U.S., where benefits would be expected to be the most substantial. However, the company says the testing has shown that fuel savings, even in perfect platooning conditions, are less than expected, and those savings are further diminished when the platoon gets disconnected and the trucks must accelerate to reconnect.

“At least for U.S. long-distance applications, analysis currently shows no business case for customers driving platoons with new, highly aerodynamic trucks. Daimler Trucks will, of course, remain committed to all partner projects that are still ongoing,” it said.

About the author
Jim Park

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

A truck driver and owner-operator for 20 years before becoming a trucking journalist, Jim Park maintains his commercial driver’s license and brings a real-world perspective to Test Drives, as well as to features about equipment spec’ing and trends, maintenance and drivers. His On the Spot videos bring a new dimension to his trucking reporting. And he's the primary host of the HDT Talks Trucking videocast/podcast.

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