Daimler Trucks says it's going to have highly automated trucks in production within a decade, and it's launched a new global business unit to help make it happen.
Daimler has made serious inroads in establishing autonomous vehicle technology in its latest Class 8 trucks. The company recently announced Level 2 autonomous capabilities for the latest incarnation of its Freightliner Cascadia highway tractor. And that technology suite pales in comparison to the technologies the Stuttgart, Germany, auto and truck maker is putting on its vehicles in Europe.
Now, the company is taking its autonomous vehicle efforts to another level altogether, announcing on May 28 that it is founding a new business unit dedicated to the research, development and eventual deployment of autonomous vehicle technology for commercial vehicles.
The new Autonomous Technology Group is a global organization that brings together Daimler's worldwide expertise and activities into a new business unit that will begin operations on June 1. Its main task will be the overall strategy and implementation of the automated driving roadmap, including research and development, as well as setting up the required operations infrastructure and network – all heading toward the series production of highly automated trucks (SAE level 4), Daimler said in a press release.
The newly established Autonomous Technology Group is part of Daimler's global effort to put highly automated trucks onto the roads within a decade. To achieve this, the company noted it is investing more than $570 million in this technology as it begins to move toward Level 4 autonomous vehicle systems, which Daimler said is the “logical next step after level 2,” to increase safety as well as efficiency and productivity.
“We are the pioneer for automated trucks. With the formation of our global Autonomous Technology Group, we are taking the next step, underscoring the importance of highly automated driving for Daimler Trucks, the industry and society as well,” said Martin Daum, who heads up Daimler's truck and bus operations.
Peter Vaughan Schmidt, currently head of strategy for Daimler Trucks, will lead this new, cross-divisional organization. He will continue to report directly to Daum. Schmidt has 15 years of experience in the industry and in his previous position he has been responsible for the development of Daimler Trucks’ strategy on automated vehicles.
Software development for highly automated driving will be one of the key activities of the new Autonomous Technology Group, as well as redundant systems in the chassis enabling the vehicle’s systems to take over roles of a professional driver while on the road. Other research and development aspects will focus on automated driving sensor integration (camera, lidar, radar), which – together with a very accurate map – are responsible for ensuring that the highly automated truck finds its own way on the road.
In the first stage, the comapny will focus on use cases of highly automated driving in defined areas and between defined hubs in the United States, Vaughan Schmidt said. “In doing so, we will work closely together with customers whose business matches this automated driving application. We will not only develop the respective technology but also set up the required operations infrastructure and network.”
Daimler Trucks North America CEO Roger Nielsen said the company is "fully committed to demonstrating the enormous advantages of highly automated driving first here in the U.S.A. This new global organization will enable us to even stronger evolve the technology for highly automated driving and vehicle integration for heavy-duty trucks at our Automated Truck Research & Development Center in Portland," he said in a release.
Daimler said its new Autonomous Technology Group has a global reach, with experts working in various locations throughout the company’s worldwide development network, including Portland, Oregon, and Blacksburg, Virginia, as well as Stuttgart. More locations will follow as the test fleet is built up and deployed. The Blacksburg-based company Torc Robotics will be part of the newly established Autonomous Technology Group, pending the authorities’ approval of the acquisition recently announced by Daimler Trucks, with the founders of Torc Robotics continuing to be part of the company’s management team.
Additionally, the company noted, Daimler Trucks will continue to work very closely on automated vehicle technology across Daimler, including joint activities with passenger cars. At the same time, Daimler stressed that truck specifications require their own development activities than vehicles designed for inner-city passenger transportation, all of which will fall under the auspices of the new Autonomous Technology Group.