Mercedes has unveiled its self-driving truck prototype in a maiden journey on a German highway signalling the onset of the autonomous freight transportation revolution.
Guided by the company’s intelligent Highway Pilot system, the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 prototype is intended for commercial launch in 2025.
The system, comparable to an airplane autopilot, uses radar to scan the road up to 250 meters ahead and takes advantage of existing autonomous driving features such as networking on-board sensors, automatic braking, stability control and lane-warning systems.
Capable of driving completely autonomously at speeds of up to 85 km/h, the truck has demonstrated its abilities on a stretch of a highway closed for general traffic near Magdeburg, Germany. During the test, professional truck driver Hans Luft was sitting in the cabin but didn’t interfere with the actual steering.
"The drive was relaxing," Luft told reporters afterwards.
In a response to Google’s advances in driverless cars, Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz and the world’s biggest truck maker, aims to initiate a dialogue about future of freight transportation.
“Autonomous driving will revolutionize road freight transport and create major benefits for everyone involved,” said Wolfgang Bernhard, member of Daimler’s Board of Management. “With the Future Truck 2025, Daimler Trucks is once again highlighting its pioneering role in innovative technologies and opening up a new era in truck transport. We aim to be the number one manufacturer in this market of the future, which we believe will offer solid revenue and earnings potential.”
Daimler said autonomous trucks would offer improved efficiency, safety and connectivity, making transport of goods more sustainable. Autonomous systems could also elevate the prestige of the truck drivers’ profession as it would free them from monotonous and repetitive tasks and make them more in charge of a complex technological system.
Daimler believes its technology will overcome all regulatory and legal obstacles to meet the 2025 commercial launch date.
“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,” Bernhard explained. “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.”
With the volume of road freight transport in the EU steadily increasing, the industry clearly needs to focus on efficiency as well as tackling the shortage of skilled drivers.
According to Mercedes a lot of work remains to be done on the prototype before the technology will be ready to hit the market. Improved assistance systems will be developed in the coming years, capable of communicating with each other to secure safe operation in real life traffic situations.
Daimler may not have the road to itself. Sweden's Scania, a unit of Volkswagen, is among peers working on "platooning" technology that allows several trucks to travel in tight convoy with a sole human driver in the lead vehicle.