LAS VEGAS. When the governor of Nevada is just the warm-up act, and when a national landmark and engineering marvel is just a backdrop, you know you’re in for a new truck reveal that’s big—even, as more than one speaker noted, “historic.”
That was indeed the case Tuesday as Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) unveiled the self-driving Freightliner Inspiration Truck to several hundred international news media, trucking industry analysts and officials.
It is the first licensed autonomous commercial truck to operate on an open public highway in the United States. Developed by engineers at DTNA, the autonomous vehicle advancements are expected to reduce accidents, improve fuel consumption, cut highway congestion, and safeguard the environment, company officials said.
And with a tremendous growth in freight projected for the coming decades, autonomous trucks “offer benefits for everyone,” Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, member of the board of management of Daimler AG, Daimler Trucks and Buses, explained during an afternoon press preview.
“Roughly 90% of truck crashes result from driver error, and in one of eight cases, driver fatigue plays a role,” he said. “In an autonomous truck, the system never gets tired, it never gets distracted. It’s always on, 100%.”
But a self-driving truck will not replace drivers, Bernhard continued. Instead, drivers will be freed from the tedium of holding the steering wheel for hours at a time, and enabled to undertake other tasks, such as managing paperwork.
“The research is very clear. We measured brain activity with or without autonomous function,” he said. “It clearly shows that driver drowsiness decreases about 25% when the truck is operating in autonomous mode.”
The Inspiration Truck underwent extensive testing before the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles granted it a license to operate on public roads. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval formally affixed an autonomous vehicle plate to the truck and took part in the ceremonial first drive of the truck in autonomous mode. He credited the Daimler team with “revolutionizing the way we move goods.”
“Thank you for looking at the impossible and finding a safe way to make it possible,” Sandoval said. “Today is history in the areas of transportation and innovation. Nevada welcomes you and your technology solutions.”
Nevada is one of only four states with special licensing requirements to cover self-driving vehicles, and eventually federal action will be necessary for long-haul trucking, added Martin Daum, DTNA president and CEO.
“But you have to start in a state,” Daum said. “It’s not the last step where everything is picture perfect and [these vehicles] are running coast to coast. It is the very first step, and many hundred others are going to follow. But the next step obviously requires a first step, therefore it’s important to have today, and to have Nevada’s governor allowing us that first step.”
The Hoover Dam was selected for the formal unveiling because it represents America’s ability to dream big and accomplish amazing things, the company said. The Inspiration Truck drove on top of the dam while the dam was used as a large-scale projection surface. (See a gallery of images from both events here.)
The Freightliner Inspiration Truck is equipped with the Highway Pilot sensors and computer hardware is based upon a series production Freightliner Cascadia Evolution, fully certified to meet all U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
The Highway Pilot links together a sophisticated set of camera technology and radar systems with lane stability, collision avoidance, speed control, braking, steering and other monitoring systems. This combination creates a Level 3 autonomous vehicle operating system that can perform safely under a range of highway driving conditions. In total, two trucks with this equipment exist, according to DTNA.
Look for additional coverage in American Trucker following Wednesday’s ride on public roads in the Las Vegas area.