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Daimler's driverless truck makes its debut on the autobahn

This truck drives along a motorway all by itself at a speed of 80 km/h, or some 50 mph in American terms, using the installed map and markings on the highway lane. (The Trucker: LYNDON FINNEY)

By LYNDON FINNEY
The Trucker Staff

7/3/2014

MAGDEBURG, Germany — Even for this European country, it was the perfect mid-June afternoon.

Temperatures were in the mid-70s, and a cool breeze was blowing over the plains south of this German city, located some 90 miles down the road from Berlin.

Down the autobahn it came, highway A14 to be exact, an unopened stretch of road that local government official Thomas Webel called an important commercial link for Germany.

As it came closer the temporary bleachers filled with more than 300 journalists, business people, community leaders and capital analysts and investors from all over the globe, plus another 100 or so officials from Daimler, one of the nation’s premiere auto and truck makers best known in the United States for Freightliner trucks and Mercedes Benz automobiles.

The Stuttgart, Germany-based original equipment maker had chosen this day to present its “Future Truck 2025,” which the company is billing as the world’s first autonomously driven truck.

As the newly-minted vehicle approached, it looked like any other European style tractor-trailer (cabover versus the conventional models produced in the United States).

But as it drew closer to the reviewing stand, there was one difference unique to trucking anywhere — there was a driver in the cab but he wasn’t steering the truck.

This truck drives along a motorway all by itself at a speed of 80 km/h, or some 50 mph in American terms, using the installed map and markings on the highway lane.

The unveiling was part of a Daimler symposium called “Shaping Future Transportation 2014. Efficiency, Safety, Connectivity” held Thursday in downtown Magdeburg.

The introduction of “Future Truck 2015” will help “define the path” for the development of a traffic system using vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I)” technology, Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, the member of Daimler’s board of management responsible for Daimler Trucks and Buses, said during the open session of the symposium, adding that autonomous driving vehicles are the “future of the market.”

Daimler put the truck through its paces, showing how the vehicle’s sensors controlled the truck in various situations, such as on the open road, encountering traffic congestion, and needing to change lanes because of an emergency vehicle, among other maneuvers.

And although he or she is not actually driving the vehicle, “the driver still has control of the vehicle,” Bernhard said, noting that those who drive the truck would become in essence “transport managers” rather than just “truckers.” The cab now becomes an office, offering the new “transport manager” an attractive mobile workspace for new professional skills.

And, of course when it comes time to steer the truck off the roadway onto a ramp and then park the vehicle, the driver takes over.

Not having to deal with the often-monotonous task of steering and controlling the speed of the truck, drivers could manage the trip, make decisions about pickup and delivery, make route adjustments and perform other functions now the responsibility of a dispatch manager.

The truck was also billed as an important factor in improving safety since the driver will be less stressed and fatigued by endless hours behind the wheel.

The truck operates based on intelligent networking of all the safety systems already available plus cameras, radar sensors and vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

Daimler officials said there were many challenges facing the motor carrier industry, which in Europe they call the road transport sector.

And while the remarks made Thursday dealt primarily with Germany in particular and the European Union in general, the challenges in the United States will be the same: Despite increasing traffic density, investment in the infrastructure is in decline, there is increasing cost pressure on trucking companies and the growing driver shortage continues.

“Daimler Trucks has an answer to all this — the truck of tomorrow — safer, more efficient, highly networked and autonomous,” Bernhard said.

Of course to make this truck a reality by 2025, Daimler and other developers will need help.

“If the legislative framework for autonomous driving can be created quickly, the launch of the autonomous driving truck is conceivable by the middle of next decade,” Bernhard said. “That’s why Daimler Trucks is committed to maintaining a dialogue with government officials and authorities and with all other parties affected by this development. We believe the chances of success are good,

because autonomous driving combines the ability to achieve business and technology objectives with the creation of benefits for society and the environment.”

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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