With all the craze about new self-driving cars, it’s easy to overlook what may be a more impressive feat: self-driving freight trucks. This year, Freightliner and Daimler announced the first self-driving commercial truck licensed to operate on the roads. Right now, the truck is only licensed in Nevada, but this is just the beginning.
Clearing up Misconceptions about Automation
The self-driving truck is rated 3 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Automated vehicles are categorized on a 5-point rating system. A rating of 1 means that the vehicle has specific automated control systems, like anti-lock brakes. Level 2 means some driver controls are automated by combining technologies, like cruise control combined with lane sensing modules.
The Freightliner and Daimler truck is considered level 3, meaning it has limited automation features. In other words, yes, the truck still needs a driver to monitor its functions. The driver can relinquish control to the automation systems on long drives, and it can take back control whenever necessary.
The new self-driving trucks automate drives either alone or in a platoon. So, for those who are worried about driverless, robotic trucks careening down the interstate, you can relax. Similarly, truck drivers worried about losing jobs can rest at ease. In fact, self-driving trucks may actually make the job better.
How the Self-Driving Truck Works
So what does this self-driving truck actually do? First, it “sees” the road using a camera and radar. The camera scans the road ahead for other vehicles and understands road signs in real-time, just like an attentive driver. Onboard computers sync and allow several trucks to travel in line, called a platoon. The platoon function like a single unit with one truck initiating the “commands” and the other trucks following in tow.
The technology eliminates the human error margin, so trucks can travel more closely to one another without the risk of an accident. This increases fuel efficiency and driver efficiency. While the truck is busy driving, the driver can complete other important tasks, like paperwork. The system will prompt drivers to take over in particular situations, such as during inclement weather or instances when the camera can’t effectively scan the road. While fully-automated trucks are a potential in the future, federal regulations and current technology require a driver to be present.
The Future of Autonomous Commercial Trucks
For the time being, these trucks are limited to the highways of Nevada. The state is the first to license autonomous commercial trucks to drive on its highways. But, the truck is still considered a test vehicle, and the two manufacturers hope to accumulate a few million more test miles before they attempt to license it nationally.
Realistically, drivers probably won’t see autonomous vehicles everywhere for another several years. With limited automation, Daimler and Freightliner hope to “reduce accidents, improve fuel consumption, and cut highway congestion.” Truckers still have no need to worry about their jobs. Freightliner expressed that skilled drivers are an “essential part of the equation,” and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
http://fleetowner.com/news/road-self-driving-truck (I also have a membership with this site)