Daimler tests self-driving truck on public highway

October 05, 2015 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Carmaker Daimler has performed the first test drive with a self-driving truck on public roads. The test drive took place past week on Autobahn A8 near Stuttgart, a stretch known for its high traffic density. In contrast to earlier trials, the company this time used a series vehicle, equipped for partially automated driving on highways.

On board during the test ride were Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler’s Trucks and Buses division, along with Winfried Kretschmann, minister president of the state of Baden-Württemberg.

The autopilot system, labelled Highway Pilot, enables the truck to perform semi-autnomous driving. While the electronic driver has control over steering wheel and gas pedal, the human driver needs to stay in its place; he remains in charge, requiring him to constantly monitor the traffic and being able to intervene at any time. The system utilises a front radar, a stereo camera and several “usual suspects” among the variety of driver assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control. According to Daimler, the interplay of the systems has been tested thoroughly; the Highway Pilot has more than 20.000 kilometres (12,400 miles) of driving experience in Germany and the United States.

For the sake of safety, the engineers have designed significant redundancies into the electronics, enabling it to react adequately even under adverse circumstances. In case the weather conditionings are worsening significantly or the road markings are becoming unidentifiable, the system issues a request to the driver to continue manually. The driver has enough time to take over, but if he fails to react on the acoustic and optical signals, the Highway Pilot brings the truck safely and autonomously to a full stop at the kerbside.

Before testing the Highway Pilot on Baden-Württemberg’s A8, Daimler already introduced the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck in Mageburg (Germany) in 2014; in 2015 the company showed the Freightliner Inspiration Truck in Nevada, USA. The Freightliner Inspiration Truck was globally the first autonomously driving truck to receive an admission to drive on public roads.

Daimler believes that autonomous trucks have a big future: Since gear-switching, acceleration and braking is controlled by algorithms, they significantly can reduce power consumption; experts estimate this effect to some 7 %. In addition, the driver could be productive while his truck rolls along the highway: The