Daimler Starts Highway Test of Autonomous Freightliner Truck

September 09, 2019 by John O'Dell

A big silver Freightliner Cascadia truck began plying public roads in Virginia Monday, fully under the command of its autonomous driving software.

Freightliner owner Daimler Trucks stationed a licensed safety driver in the cab. There’s also an engineer to monitor the system. But unless there’s a catastrophic meltdown, Daimler expects the robotic truck to operate on its own.

The test, which started with a single Class 8 rig using highways in southwestern Virginia, will expand with more trucks covering a greater portion of the state.

TORC PARTNERSHIP 

Daimler and its autonomy partner, Virginia-based Torc Robotics, previously tested the truck for months on a closed-loop track, the companies said.

“Bringing Level 4 trucks to the public roads is a major step toward our goal to deliver reliable and safe trucks for the benefit of our customers, our economies and our society,” said Martin Daum, global head of Daimler’s trucks and buses unit.

Level 4 autonomy is the penultimate of the autonomous driving levels (Level 0 through Level 5) established by the Society of Automotive Engineers and endorsed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

NO DRIVER NEEDED

Level 4 autonomy denotes vehicles that can drive themselves in on-road traffic, within a specified set of operational conditions. Although back-up drivers are on board Level 4 vehicles, there is no expectation that a human will need to intervene in the truck’s operation at this level.

The conditions imposed in Level 4 typically are geographic or weather condition limitations but can include load and other task limits as well.

At Level 5, an autonomous vehicle can operate independently of any limits or human back-up.

PROJECT ASIMOV

Daimler recently acquired Torc, which has been working in the autonomous driving field for years and has developed a system called Asimov. It has successfully tested Asimov in snow, rain, fog, low-light conditions and on highways, city streets and country roads.

The company, based in Blacksburg, Va., is now part of Daimler Trucks. The truck builder is splitting its autonomous driving operations between Blacksburg, Daimler Trucks’ North America headquarters in Portland, Ore., and the Daimler corporate headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

As part of the Level 4 testing program, Daimler Trucks North America’s autonomous technology group is building a central control center and a series of satellite hubs along major freight corridors.

COMPETITION

Daimler isn’t the only company at the Level 4 stage of heavy-duty truck autonomy.

Autonomous driving systems pioneer Peloton is developing a two-truck platooning system that doesn’t require a diver in the second truck.

The U.S. Postal Service is working with startup TuSimple on a series of long-haul trips at Level 4 autonomy. The trials use a route between the postal service’s distribution centers in Phoenix, Ariz., and Dallas, Texas.

Freight giant UPS, long a proponent of autonomous trucks, recently purchased a small stake in TuSimple and is conducting self-driving truck testing in Arizona.

Daimler is making its Level 2 driver assistance system, Detroit Assurance 5.0, available on new 2020 Cascadia trucks. Level 2 permits autonomous following and lane-keeping but requires a “hand-on-the-wheel” human driver to identify obstacles in the road, change lanes and perform other tasks.

John O'Dell September 5, 2019
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