The Frontrunners in Autonomous Trucks

September 17, 2015 by Adam Luehrs

The autonomous truck market is growing at a frantic pace as manufacturers rush to complete work on prototypes. While there are kinks to work out and regulatory hurdles to overcome, major manufacturers are competing to develop autonomous trucks for commercial use, and the vehicles will be here sooner than you might think.

Daimler’s Freightliner Inspiration Truck

Already licensed to operate in Nevada, the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, produced by Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), is an 18-wheeler that operates almost completely without a driver, although problems with detecting highway safety lines or reacting to emergency conditions require a human to take the wheel.

The vehicle’s autonomous system makes it stay in the proper lane at the legal speed, maintain a safe distance from vehicles in front of it, and stop or slow down according to road conditions. The system returns control to a driver when necessary, such as when exiting a highway. Traveling on local roads and making deliveries to warehouse docks also require a driver’s assistance.

The Peterbilt Concept Vehicle

Peterbilt’s entry into the autonomous truck market uses its own global positioning system (GPS), which features “high-precision mapping,” to stay within a lane even when markings are not visible. Peterbilt claims its system is accurate to within five centimeters, compared to a smartphone GPS’s eight meters. The company’s Advanced Driver Assist system, one of which was built exclusively for Walmart, provides a pre-programmed route based on both the company’s GPS mapping and input by engineers. Creating a database for the system requires traveling the most used routes and programming the instructions for choosing the best lane. Establishing speeds for cornering requires tailoring for the management of a trailer, a special requirement that automobiles using GPS do not need to meet.

Neither the Freightliner nor the Peterbilt truck is truly autonomous, although both are close to achieving the designation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ranks both at level three of automation, just short of the highest classification that requires no driver. Both trucks use the roads of Nevada, the only state to currently allow autonomous 18-wheelers.

The Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 Prototype

While drivers of autonomous trucks will still have to pay attention to the road and take care of tasks such as updating logs, Mercedes-Benz claims that it will soon — in about a decade — offer the driver the chance to take a break from highway steering all together. The manufacturer’s prototype Future Truck 2025 boasts the automated “Highway Pilot” system, which is semi-autonomous and can drive on its own. However, the company must spend another decade developing the prototype. Daimler, the owner of Mercedes-Benz, already has its Freightliner, but the company favors its Highway Pilot for the Future Truck 2025, in which it has invested more time and money and which it considers an even safer system than the Freightliner due to the Highway Pilot’s automated features.

Using technology to , such as ambulances and police cars, the Highway Pilot lets the truck keep track of their speed and location. Primary benefits include knowing when to let an emergency vehicle pass and detecting the presence of a stopped vehicle, but the system still needs a driver for entering a highway or merging into the traffic flow, in which cases it will alert the driver.

 

Autonomous trucks are positioned to change the face of the shipping industry. While there are kinks to work out and regulatory issues to deal with, Mercedes-Benz, Peterbilt, and Daimler currently have shown the greatest strides in making autonomous vehicles a reality.

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