Daimler Trucks became the world´s first manufacturer to be granted a road license for an autonomous heavy-duty truck. The world premiere of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck took place near Las Vegas, and the first journey took place on U.S. highway 15 in Las Vegas. The truck is equipped with the intelligent Highway Pilot system for autonomous driving.
Daimler Trucks became the world´s first manufacturer to be granted a road license for an autonomous heavy-duty truck. The world premiere of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck took place near Las Vegas, and the first journey took place on U.S. highway 15 in Las Vegas. The truck is equipped with the intelligent Highway Pilot system for autonomous driving. The state of Nevada licensed two Freightliner Inspiration Trucks for regular operation on public roads.
In July of last year, Daimler Trucks provided what is claimed to be the world´s first demonstration of an autonomous truck in action when the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 drove along a cordoned-off section of the A14 autobahn near Magdeburg. In the last few months the technology has been tested over many thousands of kilometers and configured for use in U.S. highway traffic.
The Freightliner Inspiration Truck is based on the series-produced U.S. Freightliner Cascadia Evolution model, but with the addition of the Highway Pilot technology. The latter comprises a front radar and a stereo camera plus tried-and-tested assistance systems such as the Adaptive Cruise Control+, as seen in the Mercedes-Benz Actros. For licensing on public roads in Nevada, the technology was further developed and the interaction of components extensively tested. As part of the truck´s so-called Marathon Run, the Freightliner Inspiration Truck covered over 10,000 miles (over 16,000 kilometers) on a test circuit in Germany.
Trucks are by far the most important means of transport in the U.S. In 2012, trucks transported around 70 percent of all freight tonnage in the United States. This way, a total of 9.4 billion tons of freight were moved by trucks. Globally, the road freight transport is expected to even triple between now and 2050. Autonomous trucks provide the opportunity to cope with this growth in a manner that harmonizes economic and environmental needs. The Highway Pilot technology from Daimler Trucks demonstrably leads to more concentrated and thus more efficient long-haul truck drivers. This is a result of studies conducted on a cordoned-off test route during the pilot stage of the technology. Measurements of the probands´ brain currents (EEG) demonstrated that driver drowsiness decreases by about 25% when the truck is being operated in autonomous mode, and the driver all the while pursuing other meaningful operations. The studies also prove a high acceptance of the Highway Pilot technology and a rapid adaption phase of the probands. Relieving strains of the driver through autonomous truck driving leads to more road safety. Tests by Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner Trucks indicate that autonomous driving will cut fuel consumption by up to five percent. Because autonomous vehicles will be connected to their environment and other road users to such an extent that they will avoid areas with heavy traffic, they will also be able to contribute to reducing traffic jams on highways. The traffic of the future will flow more smoothly and be more predictable.
How the Freightliner Inspiration Truck works
As soon as the Freightliner Inspiration Truck is safely on the highway, the driver can activate the Highway Pilot system. The driver receives a visual prompt in the instrument cluster to activate the “Highway Pilot.” The vehicle switches to autonomous mode and adapts to the speed of traffic. The driver receives a confirmation message in the instrument cluster, “Highway Pilot active.”
The Highway Pilot system uses a complex stereo camera and radar systems with lane-keeping and collision-prevention functions. It regulates the speed, applies the brakes and steers. This combination of systems creates an autonomous vehicle that can operate safely under a wide range of driving conditions – the truck automatically complies with posted speed limits, regulates the distance from the vehicle ahead or uses the stop-and-go function during rush hour.
The Highway Pilot system does not initiate autonomous passing maneuvers. These have to be executed by the driver. The same is true for leaving the highway and changing lanes. Via the user interface the Highway Pilot keeps the driver visually informed about its current status and accepts instructions. The driver can deactivate the Highway Pilot manually and is able to override the system at any time. If the vehicle is no longer able to process crucial aspects of its environment, e.g. due to road construction or bad weather, the driver is prompted to retake control. In addition to a visual prompt in the instrument cluster there is also a subsequent audible notification.
The technology of the Inspiration Truck
A radar unit centered in the front bumper of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck monitors the road at close and long range. The long-range sensor goes out to about 820 feet (250 meters) at an aperture angle of 18 degrees and detects vehicles in a long and narrow area. The short-range sensor goes out to about 230 feet (70 meters) at an aperture angle of 130 degrees and detects vehicles in a wider area that could merge into the lane in front of the truck. The front radar unit forms the basis for the Adaptive Cruise Control system and the Active Brake Assist system.
The area in front of the truck is also monitored by a stereo camera mounted above the dashboard on the inside of the windshield. The camera has a range of about 100 meters (328 feet) and aperture angles of 45 degrees horizontally and 27 degrees vertically. The camera recognizes pavement markings and communicates with the steering gear of the Highway Pilot system to keep the truck in its lane autonomously.
The Adaptive Cruise Control system of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck uses the same hardware and software as the series production variants of the Mercedes-Benz Actros and Freightliner Cascadia Evolution. The system receives the same input signals within the identical range of values and comprises the same functions and safety features. The use of the standard system ensures that the acceleration and braking maneuvers controlled by the Highway Pilot system are always within the limits of the production vehicle. The active power steering system uses the same hardware as the production vehicles, however, the software has been modified. The system offers the same functions and safety features as the system in the series production vehicle.
The steering gear installed in the Freightliner Inspiration Truck has already been proven on the road in Mercedes-Benz trucks since 2011. The camera of the Lane Keeping Assist system has already completed more than 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers) of testing and has been used in all Mercedes-Benz Advanced Engineering projects since 2008. Testing of the front radar unit also began in 2008 and since then it has successfully completed more than 2 million miles (3 million kilometers) in series production and in tests at Mercedes-Benz Cars and Daimler Trucks.