Most individuals are aware that the leisurely drive in the family sedan and the bumper-to-bumper grind to and from work will likely become autonomous in the generations ahead once cars are able to drive themselves. However, most people are oblivious that engineers at Daimler are developing self-driving commercial trucks that will surely make the roadway safer.
In May 2015, two Daimler’s Freightliner Inspiration trucks brought autonomous driving to Nevada highways in an effort to change the way the nation handles long hauling transport. The unveiling of the prototype semi-truck and trailer is the first of its kind from Freightliner, the largest U.S. heavy-duty truck manufacturer.
Autonomous driving is nothing new. In recent years, Google, Daimler-Mercedes, Tesla and others have been toying with autonomous driving technology in cars that is available today. Some manufacturers provide standard or optional equipment that deal with blind Spot warnings, braking assists and automatic parallel parking.
Modern Design and Impressive Computer Controls
In addition to its plush white leather interior design, decorative grill and LED headlights, the new autonomous commercial Freightliner vehicle provides cameras, radar sensors and other equipment to detect lane markings and objects. These controls provide information to the truck’s steering, braking and accelerating system. The company hopes to bring “a new dimension of safety” to short and long-term hauling of the nation’s goods, merchandise and equipment.
The truck is designed to provide self-driving capabilities to alleviate trucker fatigue during monotonous stretches of long highways. The truck’s computer system can easily take control of the vehicle on all stretches of roads that are clearly marked. Once initiated, the truck “Highway Pilot”indicates on its main display that it is ready to take control. When the trucker pushes the button to activate the system, the computer takes control of steering the vehicle while the driver remains behind the wheel.
In the event that roadway conditions become too difficult or unmanageable for the autonomous system, the computer provides a twenty second countdown and sounds an alert to indicate that the driver must resume control. If no action is taken by the trucker, the computer system will automatically begin the process of slowing down and stopping at a safe location along the roadway.
Safe Operation Mode
With the autopilot engaged, the cameras are designed to detect the lines in the road to ensure that the vehicle remains headed in the correct direction. At that point, the truck maintains its speed, and sensors ensure the truck and trailer remain a safe distance from all other vehicles. At the rate of development, engineers at Daimler believe the potential exists that autonomous semi-trucks and trailers will arrive in the marketplace long before self-driving cars are available for sale.
The Future of Human Truckers
The direction that autonomous vehicle engineers are taking in no way endangers the livelihood and careers of human truckers. This is because the system still requires a truck driver to be sitting in the driver’s seat to handle difficult surface-street traffic issues. The computer system that operates the autonomous 18-wheeler currently only provides its self-driving features on the highway.
Companies are using public roads to perform their tests were human drivers remain behind the wheel to ensure ultimate safety during the initial phase of self-driving. Legislators, vehicle manufacturers and others recognize it will take some time before society accepts the idea of cars and trucks driving themselves. For now, a few states, including Nevada, along with the District of Columbia have allowed vehicle manufacturers to perform extensive tests of autonomous driving. However, many believe that the tipping point will be reached when statistics show how self-driving vehicles reduce the number of accidents involving injuries and fatalities.
Marketers for the product are cautious about the reality of the Freightliner Inspiration hitting the marketplace anytime soon. Daimler itself claims the system will likely not be completely ready for another decade. Additionally, there are philosophical and legal questions that need to be answered that will likely not happen until the technology has been perfected. This is because society can forgive the high death toll caused by fatigued or distracted drivers. However, forgiving autonomous commercial vehicles that cause just a single fatal accident might be significantly harder on society to accept.