Self-driving cars are the next big thing, but with all the talk of sipping latte and reading the morning paper while our cars drive us to work, it's easy to forget about the huge impact this technology will have on other road transport segments such as freight distribution. As part of the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 program, Daimler Trucks has taken the most advanced of its autonomous trucks for a spin on a section of the A14 autobahn near Magdeburg, Germany. Daimler says the vehicle drove itself in "completely realistic driving situations" in front of the media, government officials, business representatives, market analysts, and investors.
According to a study commissioned by Daimler, between 2008 and 2025 the EU will see a 20 percent increase in freight traffic, with trucks carrying 70 percent of road freight. During this time, fuel prices and road tolls will rise, government regulations will increase, and experienced drivers will be at a premium. Daimler sees the key to the future in reducing costs by means of autonomous systems, such as the Future Truck 2025, which aims at making safer, greener, and more efficient robotic trucks that are also more attractive to prospective drivers.
The core of Future Truck 2025 is Daimler’s Highway Pilot system, which is an autonomous driving system designed for production vehicles. Based on Mercedes Benz’s previous work on driver assist and autonomous systems for upmarket passenger cars, it allows trucks to operate with complete autonomy on public roads at speeds up to 53 mph (85 km/h).
The system uses four radar sensors and a 3D camera to assess the area within 60 m (200 ft) of the lorry, with wireless connections to other vehicles and the road infrastructure providing additional information. This, along with traffic and topographic data, allow the vehicle to operate autonomously when the driver passes over control to the system. This allows the driver to relax or work on other tasks while the system provides updates on a touchscreen tablet.
Daimler sees an advanced version of the system in service by 2025, when it could serve to increase traffic flow as vehicles communicate with one another; reducing accidents and traffic jams. It would work by coordinating acceleration and braking, reducing spacing intervals, and eliminating human error. The company says that this would produce savings not only in operation, but in insurance premiums as well. It would also allow drivers to act more like managers, making the position more attractive and improving chances of promotion.
“If the legislative framework for autonomous driving can be created quickly, the launch of the Highway Pilot is conceivable by the middle of the next decade,” says Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, the member of Daimler’s Board of Management responsible for Daimler Trucks and Buses. “That’s why Daimler Trucks is committed to maintain a dialogue with government officials and authorities, and with all other parties affected by this development. We believe the chances of success are good, because autonomous driving combines the ability to achieve business and technology objectives with the creation of benefits for society and the environment.”