Thursday, 23 June 2016 19:45

First Self-Driving Semi in U.S. Hits The Road

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Autonomous semi-truck driving officially arrived in Nevada on the night of May 5, and it did so on top of the curved concrete edge of Hoover Dam.

Daimler chose the world-famous location to introduce its Freightliner Inspiration Truck, the world’s first licensed autonomous truck, according to reports at Autoblog.com.


On the same day, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval officially granted the first license for an autonomous commercial truck to operate on an open public highway in the United States to Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA). At the event, hosted by DTNA President & CEO Martin Daum, Gov. Sandoval took part in the inaugural trip of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck in autonomous mode with Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG Daimler Trucks & Buses, at the controls.


“Nevada is proud to be making transportation history today by hosting the first U.S. public highway drive for a licensed autonomous commercial truck. The application of this innovative technology to one of America's most important industries will have a lasting impact on our state and help shape the New Nevada economy,” said Gov. Sandoval.


“The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles has been closely monitoring the advancements being made in autonomous vehicle development and reviewed DTNA's safety, testing and training plans before granting permission for this demonstration of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck.”


This is the first 18-wheel commercial vehicle to garner the designation (the state actually licensed two autonomous Freightliners), and the truck showed off its hands-free driving skill on top of the 80-year-old landmark. The truck, which is based on the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 that drove on the autobahn last year, was tested in Germany where, according to Daimler, it has covered more than 10,000 autonomous miles.


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Similar to the autopilot system in a passenger jet, Daimler’s Freightliner has “Highway Pilot,” which the truck driver engages. That’s how Daimler did it for the demonstration: A driverpulled the truck onto the road atop the Hoover Dam, and the truck’s Highway Pilot took over.


Daimler’s truck has front radars that see the road over 800 feet in front of it, another radar to detect cars merging in front of the truck, and stereo cameras that analyze road markings to communicate with the steering mechanism. It knows the rules of the road and will brake and accelerate based on posted speed limits for semi-trucks.


Daimler cautioned in its announcement, “In terms of on-highway commercial trucks, it is incorrect to refer to a ve hicle in autonomous mode as a ‘driverless truck.’ Drivers remain the boss in their vehicle because the technology ... requires the presence of a qualified truck driver with valid commercial driver’s license in the cab and on the gauges.”


In addition, there are numerous maneuvers the truck cannot make on its own, such as passing and lane changes. Plus, if the Highway Pilot senses particularly adverse driving conditions, like bad weather, it will ask the human driver to take over.

Though only licensed for one state, autonomous freight trucks could not come at a better time. Driving a semi is tiring and dangerous work. A 2012 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study noted that, in the U.S., “333,000 large trucks were involved in traffic crashes.” A 2009 Harvard School of medicine study on Drowsy Driving reported that “truck drivers are often chronically sleep deprived.”


Those challenges may be leading to a dwindling number of commercial truck drivers. In 2014, the trucking industry reported nearly 35,000 unfilled jobs.


Nevada was selected because it is one of four states, plus the District of Columbia, with laws regulating autonomous vehicle operation. Nevada legislation passed in 2011 and 2013 regulates the testing and operation of autonomous vehicles. The legislation includes commercial trucks and sets standards specifying the number of miles an autonomous vehicle must have been tested in certain conditions before it can be granted a license to be driven in Nevada. Daimler obtained a special permit from the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles to operate the Freightliner Inspiration Truck on public roads near Las Vegas after supplying state officials with detailed information on the safety systems in the truck and the training program for the drivers.


Smarter trucks that take some of the burden off commercial truck drivers and always follow the rules of the road could make the job of commercial truck driver more attractive again

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