Daimler’s Freightliner division unveiled its vision of the future with the first self-driving big rig licensed to drive on public highways in Nevada.
Named the Freightliner Inspiration truck, it will allow commercial drivers to cede control of all functions when driving on highways in certain conditions. Lots of caveats, but that’s expected in new technology. Traffic and weather conditions are two conditions Freightliner is testing.
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So, why build a self-driving big rig? Freightliner wants to reduce accidents, fuel consumption and traffic. We could always start with fixing the crumbling roads, and work up from there.
The truck is designated level 3 by federal regulators, meaning its self-driving is limited. Commercial drivers would still have to take control in adverse conditions, exiting highways, backing into loading docks and driving on local roads.
Freightliner’s Inspiration is equipped with the Highway Pilot sensors and computer systems found in its Cascadia production model. What pushes it to a Level 3 autonomous vehicle is the combination of that tech with an array of cameras, radar, speed control, steering and collision avoidance.
Testing will take years before this model ever sees commercial use.
Self-Driving Big Rig
Getting past the ‘make the roads safer’ statement, there’s an economic factor. The United States has a shortage of commercial truck drivers, and it’s growing by the day. Could this help fill the gap?
Truck drivers will be quick to point out if the job paid more, the gap could be closed. While most of us go to work and come home daily, long haul truck drivers are essentially at work 24/7.
Sure, DOT says truckers can only drive ten hours per day, but there’s context. How would you sleep if every crap stretch of interstate felt like you just fell off a cliff? That’s what team drivers face daily.
Then there are the optics. Google’s self-driving car looks quaint and interesting. Forty tons and no one behind the wheel? Good luck convincing today’s public. Tomorrow? A different story after millions of miles of testing.
Freightliner’s technology shows unbelievable promise. The radar, smart braking and collision avoidance systems will hopefully make their way into production vehicles soon.
As for the Inspiration? It’s always great to see what tomorrow could bring. Technology is the future, and eventually we will all kick back and let the computer take the wheel.
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