Freightliner debuts Cascadia with limited autonomous capabilities

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Updated Jan 13, 2019
Freightliner’s 2020 CascadiaFreightliner’s 2020 Cascadia

Daimler Trucks North America on Monday introduced updates to Freightliner’s flagship Cascadia tractor that will enable SAE Level 2 automated driving.

The announcement was made in Las Vegas during the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

The 2020 Cascadia is the first production model tractor in North America to be equipped with Level 2 automation functionality. Level 2 automation means the truck can accelerate, decelerate and steer independently. The tractor in part stems from the groundwork laid by Daimler in 2015, when it unveiled the semi-autonomous Level 3 Inspiration concept truck.

The system uses Detroit Assurance 5.0 Adaptive Cruise Control and Active Lane Assist features to enable automated driving at all speed ranges, a departure from systems currently available that only work above certain speeds.

Freightliner and Detroit’s Director of Product Marketing Kelly Gedert touted the safety benefits of the new Cascadia in its unveiling.

“Fleets with trucks equipped with forward collision mitigation systems can experience a 60 to 80 percent reduction in rear-end crashes, resulting in potentially fewer accidents and reduced operational costs to our customers,” she says.

The tractor leans heavily on the Detroit Assurance safety system platform, which is standard on all Cascadia models, and the Detroit powertrain. “The system is always on and it’s always alert,” says DTNA Senior Vice President of Engineering and Technology Wilfried Achenbach, who notes the Detroit Assurance 5.0 platform has been tested over millions of miles.

The system’s Adaptive Cruise Control, which operates down to zero mph, can automatically decelerate and accelerate to maintain following distance.

Active Brake Assist 5.0 is the marriage of camera and radar technology and detects moving pedestrians and cyclists in front of the truck with the capability to deploy full braking. It can also detect and mitigate a collision with full braking on moving and stationary objects.

Active Lane Assist – the system that actually enables Level 2 automated driving – consists of Lane Keep Assist and Lane Departure Protection. When Adaptive Cruise Control is enabled, Lane Keep Assist supports the driver by using small steering movements to keep the truck centered in its lane. With Lane Departure Protection, if the truck drifts without the turn signal engaged, the system will counter-steer the tractor back into its lane and give the driver audible and visual warnings.

Optional Side Guard Assist detects objects, including pedestrians and cyclists, in the tractor’s passenger-side blind spot and the full 53-foot trailer length – another industry first – and delivers audible and visual warnings.

Aerodynamics and powertrain

Technology isn’t the only upgrade to Cascadia models set to enter series production this summer. The new truck also delivers a 35 percent improvement in fuel efficiency when compared to 2007’s first-generation Cascadia, Freightliner says.

Aerodynamic enhancements for production for next model year include a standard A-pillar deflector that helps slide air more smoothly down the side of the tractor. New tow hook covers improve airflow by reducing the volume of air entering the front of the truck and directing it down the cab.

Aerodynamic Height Control, an optional upfit, electronically lowers suspension height one-inch automatically at 55 mph to optimize airflow over and under the front of the truck to reduce drag and raises the vehicle to its original ride-height at 45 mph. It can be disabled by a switch on the dash.

Optional chassis skirts and side extenders help reduce drag and a redesigned two-piece c-clip reduces vibration that previously caused three-piece clips to loosen.

An optimized roof fairing deflector improves airflow between the top of the truck and trailer and drive wheel fairings close the gap between the tandem tires.

Other enhancements include limited-time exclusive availability of Michelin’s X Line D+ Energy tires, which the two companies developed in collaboration to reduce rolling resistance in 6×4 applications, and a low ground clearance bumper.

Cascadia’s Integrated Detroit Powertrain now features Intelligent Powertrain Management 6 (IPM6), an enhanced predictive cruise control platform that uses the truck’s kinetic energy to automatically adjust braking power while also making transmission and engine adjustments that saving fuel and reduce component wear and tear. Freightliner has also added more than 600,000 miles of road coverage within the IPM6 mapping network, an uptick of about 35 percent.

A new maintenance system platform uses feedback from the truck to determine optimized maintenance intervals. For example, it uses oil temperature data to more accurately determine drain intervals.

An optional 12-inch digital driver display offers vehicle diagnostics can be paired with a 10-inch panel in the B-panel that can serve as housing for third-party apps. A multimedia interface allows drivers to connect their smartphone to the display.

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With Level 2-capable trucks ready to roll off the assembly line, Daimler Truck & Bus boss Martin Daum says the company’s focus now shifts to “highly automated driving” – Level 4 autonomy.

Just three years ago, Daum was skeptical of autonomous trucking but says the company “learned a lot” in the months since, shifting his optimism for Level 4 driving capabilities.

“Level 4 trucks will be a must some time in the future,” he says.

Daum says Level 4 is the natural next step after Level 2 for commercial trucking because it increases efficiency and productivity for customers and cuts costs-per-mile significantly. He says the truck maker plans to skip Level 3 because it “does not offer truck customers a substantial advantage compared to the current situation as there are no corresponding benefits to compensate for the technology costs.”

“Highly automated trucks will improve safety because the systems are never tired. They never have a bad day,” he says. “We feel obligated to innovate. We build to provide solutions. Automated trucks are fascinating pieces of technology and promise a lot of benefits for the future. The benefits of the highly automated truck are significant so we have to tackle that. It’s the only way, in our opinion, to handle the ever-growing volume of freight.”

Daimler Trucks also plans to reassess its work on truck platooning. The company said Monday test results have shown that fuel savings – even in perfect platooning conditions – are less than expected and that those savings further diminish when the platoon disconnects and the trucks must accelerate to reconnect. DTNA says analysis currently shows no business case for platooning in U.S. long-haul applications with new, highly aerodynamic trucks.

“The technology we would have to put in does not quantify the savings,” Daum says.

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