Autonomous Truck hits the public road

Since last year, we’ve known that Daimler Benz has working on its driverless truck technology, but last Tuesday marked a major milestone in this rapidly developing technology when the state of Nevada granted the first license for a self-driving commercial vehicle in the USA to Daimler Truck North America. This makes it the first time in the country, or in the world for that matter, that a commercial vehicle can be legally driven on public roads.

Two of Daimler’s newly revealed Freightliner Inspiration Trucks were certified, and one of it was immediately used to traverse Highway 15 near Las Vegas, with Head of Daimler Trucks, Dr Wolfgang Bernhard, and Governor of Nevada, Brian Sandoval, on board. Check out the spaghetti-western-style promo ad in which those two gentlemen try out their acting chops (nice effort, but we don’t think Hollywood will be calling:

The Inspiration trucks are based on the Freightliner Cascadia Evolution model and uses Daimler’s Highway Pilot system, which have some pretty spectacular features. It consists of a radar on the front bumper that monitors the road from close-to-long range – the short-range sensor covers 230 feet at a 130° angle to detect vehicles in wider areas that might cut into its lane while the long-range sensor sweeps up to 820 feet at an 18° angle to detect vehicles in long and narrow areas; these allow for the cruise control and brake assistance functions. A stereo camera mounted inside the windshield above the dashboard monitors the area in front of the truck and can discern pavement markings for lane-keeping assistance. The truck is programmed to comply with speed limits, to keep a certain distance from the vehicle in front or to use the stop-go function during heavy traffic. Really, the Highway Pilot sounds like the ideal driver.

But truckers need not worry that their jobs are being taken over by computers. Daimler insists that their autonomous tech is mean to assist the drivers, especially during fatiguing long hauls, not to replace them. The system is not allowed to overtake; this maneuver as well as leaving the highway or changing lanes have to be executed by the driver behind the wheel instead. So, drivers still play an essential role in getting the trucks safely to their destinations.

The German truckmaker aims for widespread use of its Highway Pilot system by 2025, in time for the market’s expected growth. According to the company, the hauling market will triple by 2050, with the USA being a key market (in the States, trucks haul almost 70% of the country’s domestic freight weight).

That still seems like a long wait for the technology to become a widespread implementation, especially since we’ve been waiting for self-driving cars to come true since watching movies like Demolition Man. Here’s how, back in 1993, we imagined the future would be like with vehicles that drove themselves, and also when Stallone still looked like Stallone:

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