We’re on the brink of a transportation revolution – with cars set to drive themselves to and from their destination without human intervention. But the train might be caught before that by long-haul operators, if Daimler’s plans pan out.
In the US state of Nevada the German automaker – also thanks to its Freightliner brand the biggest heavy-duty truck builder – presented the 18-wheeler prototype “Inspiration,” the first driverless truck with a license to drive on public roads in the world. It’s equipped with the so-called Highway Pilot system, which uses state of the art technology to allow the behemoth to handle all driving duties, from steering, braking, and accelerating to negotiating bends. The implications are massive and go beyond the driver’s ability to send an e-mail, for example, all the way up to establishing a new dimension in truck driving safety. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, heavy truck accidents back in 2013 claimed 3.600 lives – with more than 90 percent of the crashes due to driver error.
There’s still a long way to having truck drivers for example handle altogether different duties (let’s say cargo planning, finances, to name a few) while on their way to deliver the goods. The Freightliner Inspiration is only a Level 3 autonomous vehicle – according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with a driver still present behind the wheel at all times and ready to assume driving duties “with a sufficiently comfortable transition time.” Daimler executives say the road-going versions won’t be happening until 2025, but after that the possibilities are seen as being endless.