Self-driving trucks are here: Daimler introduces ‘Highway Pilot’ autonomous truck

| July 03, 2014
Mercedes driverless

The self-driving Mercedes Actros tractor-trailer Daimler has on display in Germany for its autonomous truck unveiling event.

Speculation about autonomous — or “driverless” — vehicles has been commonplace in the trucking industry for years. Now, Daimler has made this concept a reality.

At a July 3 global press conference and demonstration in Magdeburg, Germany, Daimler is hosting its “Shaping Future Transportation 2014″ conference. And the decided star of the show is an actual, fully-functioning autonomous truck operating at real-world speeds on a special section of the Autobahn outside of Magdeburg. Daimler said the autonomous truck could be ready for real-world deployment by 2025.

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Daimler is quick to point out that these new “truck autopilot” systems do not diminish or eliminate the role of the truck driver, but rather turn him or her from a “trucker” to a “transport manager.” Daimler claims its new system, once fully fleshed out and in real-world use, will offer drivers an “attractive mobile workplace offering scope for new professional skills.”

Flowery language aside, Daimler notes that the system is not a new truck or even a new product, but instead a revolutionary shift in the way the transport system of the future will develop. According to Daimler Trucks’ global head Wolfgang Bernhard, the new system will offer the highest possible level of traffic safety while conserving resources, reducing emissions and eliminating physical and mental stress commonly experienced by drivers in tough road and traffic conditions.

In its current configuration, Highway Pilot communicates with both its environment, surrounding vehicles while driving autonomously. A driver remains at the control — much like an airline pilot while an aircraft is on autopilot — to take over whenever necessary. According to Dr. Uwe Clausen, the system is designed to take over and allow the driver to rest and monitor vehicle performance in particularly stressful or boring situations, such has heavily congested traffic or long interstate stretches where little driver input is required.

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Moreover, Clausen says Highway Pilot is the centerpiece of a whole new concept in freight logistics, as the system serves as the meeting point and optimization center for a host of transportation demands. This is a fancy way of saying the system collects and analyzes data in the overall context of the logistics train and transport system. It processes data ranging from weather, road conditions, vehicle speed and traffic congestion while navigating, communicating with the shipper, the fleet and other vehicles around the truck and actively interacting with cars and trucks it shares the road with. The result, Clausen says, “will be freight efficiency levels which would have seemed virtually impossible only a few years ago.”

How the system works

Daimler says today’s look at this futuristic concept truck is an early one and estimates that the system may not be ready for full, real-world, deployment until 2025 or so. But a few details have been unveiled.

The truck, a specially-equipped Mercedes Actros tractor-trailer, is fitted with front-facing radar sensors and cameras to scan the road ahead. Both systems are tied into a Lane Keeping Assist system. Additional sensors track areas to the sides and rear of the truck to provide the system with a complete view of the vehicle’s surroundings.

Daimler says the new sensors are so precise they can not only recognize the road edge by marker lines, but even identify the course of the road surface by detecting guardrails or vegetation.

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Steven Ashley, writing for the BBC, gives a good update on recent testing of self-driving heavy-duty trucks, particularly a test of four trucks on an oval track in Tsukuba, Japan.

A vehicle-to-vehicle communication system transmits continuous telemetry to other cars and trucks on the road while receiving and processing their information in return. Even if another vehicle does not have a communication system, Highway Pilot tracks and monitors it as well.

The range of the communication system is about 500 meters. Since all the vehicles are speaking to each other, they can respond simultaneously to any threats — from something as commonplace as another car merging onto the highway or a traffic jam up ahead or something more serious such as debris in the road or an accident.

Additionally, Highway Pilot allows a truck to talk to the infrastructure itself. Traffic control centers monitor the flow of vehicles and can proactively adjust traffic signals to optimize vehicle flow and reduce congestion or even open up additional lanes. In total both the truck and the driver are alerted to road conditions outside the line of sight and able to prepare for them in advance before they become a problem.

Once Highway Pilot is activated, the truck driver is able to rotate his seat 45 degrees to the passenger side of the vehicle to a working position or recline into a rest position. The driver can then use a tablet computer to work on other tasks or communicate with the outside world.

The driver always has the option of taking control of the truck away from Highway Pilot. An alert system warns them well in advance of reaching a highway exit that they will need to take over control of the truck — much like a pilot preparing to land an airplane.

The benefits of Highway Pilot, according to Daimler, are significant. Today’s event in Magdeburg, Germany, is simply a demonstration of the feasibility of the concept and the technology. Daimler cautions that much work remains to be done on the legal, infrastructure and technology fronts before a system like Highway Pilot can enter real-world use.

  • manyguestprease

    WELP, we’re fucked.

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  • Michelle M

    Two Words…Maximum Overdrive.

  • Jordan

    Really sucks that it’s coming to this!

  • malcolm layton

    We got a ways to go before that happens at least twenty yrs for me at 47 I’ll catch the beginning stages of that but it will be a plus for the new and up coming drivers lucky baster and lazy fucks lol

  • Del Ray Johnson

    Cool toy will Plaintiff’s lawyers all sue Daimler? Well least that finally (re)solves detention pay . . . . . .

  • darrell

    Really ducks that they got to go to computers to make roads safer for truck drivers. If the government would put more pressure on the common driver to be more attentive and educated on driving and less into multi tasking other skills than driving it may be a safer road for all, that being said if law enforcement agencies follow suit and set examples in not multi tasking and then trying to enforce it on a driver. Need lead by example and enforce laws already in place.

  • Stefan F.

    so why are there mirrors and a windshield and a cab and seats?

  • Jack

    What a joke

  • Oziel Daniel Barbosa

    Just wait till the trucks radar/computer system has a glitch, goes into “error”, fails to recognize a sudden traffic jam and rams into stopped vehicles killing families…Daimler you have just created the “Frankentruck”…happy now?…greedy bastards

  • Indie Trucker

    I don’t know, I kind of like the possibility of being a “transport manager”. Seems to me you’d be responsible for several large trucks at once, it would be a much higher paid position theoretically due to the technical knowledge needed to operate the systems. Just because a system is automated doesn’t mean it takes any less care or observation to run. Closest I’ll ever get to spaceship captain I dare say.

  • Indie Trucker

    Did you read the article?

  • Indie Trucker

    You realize 20 years ago, cell phones were large bricks that only did calls, most people had pagers. Just saying, technology moves faster than you think.

  • showtime

    all your comments are just showing how much of a low life grupe we can be show some class and keep the vulgarity to the parking lot!!!

  • Tex

    What are you afraid of? American Trucks are 20 years behind European ones. Dont worry. This will take more than 20 years to come over to the states….

  • Oziel Daniel Barbosa

    Anyone remember that “Simpsons” episode where Homer becomes a trucker and the truck had an automated computer that took control of the truck and saved Homers life every time he fell asleep at the wheel? We all laughed back then didn’t we? I bet that Simpsons episode won’t seem too funny now

  • http://www.purekarting.com Cliff Kujala

    No kidding. It says right in the article that “A driver remains at the control — much like an airline pilot while an aircraft is on autopilot — to take over whenever necessary.”

  • 4b

    Good. No need for the dot..and let the truck kill a family because it can’t react to traffic..technology cannot replace an experienced driver…period…let them do what they want…

  • 4b

    Indie trucker, of or takes the same care as driving one then why not drive it…and own the fleet..this is a death sentence to anyone in the path of it malfunctions. Technology is not the key to safer highways..training and pride on your job is…

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  • Fernando

    Relax, we all be gone by the time US pairs up.

  • Mind Games

    You guys misread the article. There has to be a driver inside to be the fall guy just in case the system malfunctions. Ya can’t put a truck in jail but you can put a driver in jail.

  • Cindy Whitten Moore

    I agree it’s just another way to screw the driver out of more money, as if the pay for the job we do isn’t low enough. Also agree that if anything goes wrong with the truck the driver will be the fall guy “back up” . I have driven a truck with lane departure system and it malfunctioned constantly, it would pick up dark spots in the highly traveled part of the lane or in areas of road construction and you would have to repeatedly hit the over ride switch. Not to mention the collision avoidance system… what a joke it malfunctioned several times picking up the car in the lane beside me who was slowing down to exit the freeway and it slammed the brakes, scaring the cap out of me and had me looking in the mirror to make sure no one had hit me in the rear. It would also disable your cruise control when it malfunctioned and you had to find somewhere to pull over and restart the truck to get cruise back. What a pain; it did NOT make my job safer NOR did it take away Any stress, it created problems instead.

  • Gordon

    “much like an airline pilot”…Except airways are 8 miles wide and construction free!

  • USMC 69-75

    So I guess you can log it off duty, being as your relaxing in a recliner?
    Only time you have to log is when YOU are at the controls?????
    Glad I’ll be out of trucking by then!

  • USMC 69-75

    Yeah, but your relaxing in a recliner, snoozing, playing video games, or talking on the net…..reaction time is so far out there, you and God knows who are dead before you can sit up!

  • USMC 69-75

    Yes! It says “Once Highway Pilot is activated, the truck driver is able to rotate his
    seat 45 degrees to the passenger side of the vehicle to a working
    position or recline into a rest position. The driver can then use a
    tablet computer to work on other tasks or communicate with the outside
    world.”
    So your relaxing in a recliner, turned away from the controls, doing God knows what. At least a pilot has a few minutes to react, you have mill-a-seconds……your dead and who did you take with you? No thanks.

  • pman

    I just wonder if an error happens can u still over ride a runaway tractor…or will it take a few deaths to stop it…then who’s at fault for an error..The driver will be for not doing his inspection…I’ll stick to my own driving thankyou..

  • notLOL

    Not w/all foreign ownd coastal& farm land here& fact th@ affordabl ‘Fixer Upper’ homes in lower price range that cld be StarterHome (espec under $40,to70,000) selling “CASH ONLY” or frequently $25-40,000 range 5-7homes sold ONLY as “BUNDLE” for Investor. Further, majority of properties are noted to be “AS IS” & result of “Hurricane Sandy” & used 2 b “Katrina” damage. ?Do u realizeRoyalBlueBloodsStill around in European & Mideast Oil$$ countries?
    Anyway, use any RealEstate Search & can see “CashOnly” & “investmentBundle” properties all around country/USA & appear over time follow’g flood/natural disasters. If i didnt know better I’d say it appeared as if alleged NannyState zoning laws allegedly 4 public safety as alleged preclude the ‘Little Guy’ from acquiring financing & buying 1stHome Fixer Upper. ?Doesn’t that sound (if i didnt know better I’d say it appeared as if)… doesn’t that sound familiar & the way small/medium independent Truckers & Farmers are being squeezed out of our allegedly Free Market Economy? Like the sign said by Receptionist @one outfit where used to work, “Smile; you could be replaced by a button.” ?Does this mean auto cops & ‘your ticket’s in mail’? NotLOL
    But, siriusly, as noted in article it must “SEE LINE” & how often are dashed & Shoulder SOLID LINES either obscured by snow, heavy rain, ice, blowing snow/dust? I can tell u now 103+mile Marks i77 experiences flash flood across lanes in both directions by WV state cap’. ? Wld u want driverless rig along River in heavy traffic area there when adverse weather probable?!?
    And ‘showtime’ yup, sounds nice brave new world & if includes onboard toilet, sink/shower &built-in coffeePot/-or/microwave & 1-BurnerNuWave, Ok I cld get behind that… but we still dont even hav toilet/sink standard since inception new rules & alleged security concerns that brought CTPAT since 9/11 & with flood tide of illegals.
    I pray u r right, Showtime.

  • notLOL

    Typo… where say ‘Showtime’ should say ‘inside Trucker’

  • Beedubyah

    Training and pride good call!
    Trucking companies need to be more selective in hiring drivers, too many NDF’s out there!

  • notLOL

    aaahh… but u 4got RoboAstronaut rolled oout on a different page in HiScience news which cited RoboAstronaut to hav other applications “in medical”/surg & “manufacturing” & other applications(?highway transport?) & is designed for a finely tuned PRECISION environment.
    RoboAstronaut was in Science news few day ago & while back. Plus, they’ve already rolled out electric smart cars for the visually challenged/blind in a very few certain spots in major metro cities touting it as part of cleaner greener city & revitalization of hard hit cities by 2008 bank crash & cuts pollution & conserves energy & water bcaus not water cooled engine.
    Does soouund attractive/nifty tho, doesn’t it?

  • bigred

    LOL,,,,,What happens when one these blows a steer tire???

  • notLOL

    ?Do u belive driverless trk 20yrs away when big elite USPS/?Swifft?FEDX fleets can afford &may get tax break to add RoboAstronaut drivrr.
    ?Wher in Europe r the highways super hundreds of miles long OTR “boring stretches” of with 40-50 miles to next public bathroom or gas station &refreshments? Sheeesh!
    American Trucker doesn’t call it “boring”.
    American Trucker calls it OPEN ROAD affording lots of
    Big Sky Country WINDSHIELD roads & little or no traffic & mountain views. Oh yeah, & where Rest Areas warn folk new(foreign) folk to region’s Rest Areas with signs
    for ‘Rattle Snakes’ & also has a designated & labeled Dumpster for ‘P’ Bottles. Yippee. And that’s how I knew for sure that I cld really call myself trucker bcause thru good bit of Canada & all 48 states any number of times vs.majority east of i35 &one-timer thru MT &back to Denver & LA/San Diego &eastbound again. Finally made it to Pacific Northwest & learned that had to hav Passport, hazmat, etc to make planning computer(& ‘bottom line$’) happy with solo driver versus Team going far Northwest. Also, if u pay couple hundred for preclearance background for ports, you do yourself a favor & will sit less as solo trucker.
    Additionally, think about it, if there’s disaster, pandemic, the NewMadrid pops & alters Mississippi & shape of Gulf of Mexico or martial law for ‘x’ reason, the American Trucker traveling from one Metro City to another, etc., could be about only civilian motor vehicle rolling the Big Road.
    As several other veteran truckers hav remarked, glad I had a chance 2 b trucker over open road b4 it turns into bus driving or some other harsh necessary future reality.
    Could always move to Australia but it sounds as if multi trailers they run thru Outback might be more likely to see testing of Driverless+RoboAstronaut(robotDroid) truck. Yup. Kangaroos watch out!

  • mike

    Just as soon as you learn to spell / You must be one of the so called low class truckers yourself.

  • Lloyd

    I just think its scary and it will put alot of guys out of work but who knows it might be a good thing

  • Kevin J. Reidy

    The company will still need a fall guy to be behind the steering wheel to take the rap when the technology fails (and it *will* fail) because the company owner certainly isn’t going to go to prison when his vehicle malfunctions and kills people.

    The dummy napping in the front seat will go to prison.

  • USMC 69-75

    Kevin,
    I don’t care if your napping, or playing/working on the computer. If your rotated away from the controls and not paying attention to the vehicle, you need to be replaced. You are dead, just don’t know it!
    Yes they will malfunction, and people will be injured or killed. You can’t replace drivers with technology without endangering peoples lives.

  • Kevin J. Reidy

    Just like the automated takeoff/landing systems used by all airlines, who gets the blame when the aircraft comes in too hot or low and tries to land 1000′ short of the runway?

    The airlines will call it pilot error, never a failure of the technology.

  • http://calgarydrivingschool.com/ Sue Brown

    That’s awesome! They will probably be the future of driving.

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  • wing

    The airport in San Fran, where the pilots crashed the plane when the atac beacon was supposedly not working, basically admit on forgetting the procedure on how to land the plane manually.???
    Now, lets apply that to trucking…..

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  • sthomas1957

    Yeah, and you can put your company in jail if your “automated” truck malfunctions on you.