Daimler Trucks North America will add hands- and foot-free driving capability to the latest version of its Freightliner Cascadia truck later this year, the company announced Monday at the start of the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Additionally, the sister company to German passenger car builder Mercedes-Benz will invest $570 million to develop fully autonomous trucks over the next decade.
The features available in the 2019 Freightliner, the best-selling heavy-duty truck in the U.S., are part of a technology package that meets the auto industry definition of Level 2 autonomy, in which the driver can use automated features but still is able to fully control the vehicle.
“Level 2 is very realistic for today’s technology,” said Antti Lindstrom, heavy-duty truck analyst with IHS Markit. “Clearly Daimler wants to maintain its market leadership in the truck scene that is evolving quickly.”
“Highly automated trucks will improve safety, boost the performance of logistics and offer a great value proposition to our customers – and thus contribute considerably to a sustainable future of transportation,” said Martin Daum, who heads the global truck and bus division of Stuttgart, Germany-based Daimler AG.
First in all speed ranges
The automaker is the first to mate adaptive cruise control in all speed ranges with active lane-assist technologies in a single package for heavy-duty trucks, he said.
“These technologies can also enhance the driver experience by making the truck-driving task easier, thereby improving driver comfort and well-being,” the company said in a statement.
The Detroit Assurance 5.0 camera- and radar-based safety systems evolved from the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, which was introduced in 2015. It was the first automated truck licensed to operate on U.S. public highways, Daum said.
Adaptive cruise control makes driving more comfortable in congested traffic, where repeated braking, accelerating and resetting of traditional cruise control can lead to driver fatigue, the company said.
The systems also feature a fusion of cameras and radar that detects moving pedestrians, cyclists and moving and stationary vehicles and objects. Side guard-assist detects objects in the passenger-side blind spot for the tractor and a full-length 53-foot trailer. It delivers audible and visual warnings.
“The enhancements we’ve made to Detroit Assurance have the potential to make an immediate, measurable and positive impact on overall North American road safety,” said Kelly Gedert, director of product marketing for Freightliner and Detroit.
Independent studies by shipper Schneider National and others have found forward collision mitigation can reduce rear-end collisions by 60 percent to 80 percent, according to Jon Morrison, North American president of truck safety system supplier Wabco Holdings Inc.
Separately, Daimler said it would add more than 200 new jobs in its global push to put highly automated trucks on the road within a decade.
Daimler will test a Level 4 autonomous tractor in the U.S. later this year, Daum said.
So-called Level 4 automation allows for a driver to override the autonomous system, but, in most situations, the vehicle drives itself. Daimler said it is skipping Level 3 autonomy, in which vehicles can detect the environment around them, because the benefits do not outweigh the investment cost.
“A 10-year time frame for Level 4 seems quite reasonable to get a system that is robust enough to handle long-distance runs across what could be varied environments,” said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst with Navigant Research.
Daimler also said it is reassessing the business case for platooning, in which two or more digitally tethered trucks travel closely together to reduce drag and save fuel.
The company said it expected more substantial benefits from platooning “and that those savings are further diminished when the platoon gets disconnected and the trucks must accelerate to reconnect.” It will continue to participate in existing platooning partnerships.