Thursday, 21 May 2015

4 things you should know about Freightliner's self-driving truck . . .


4 things you should know about Freightliner's self-driving truck

The self-driving truck debut this week, becoming the first of its kind to receive an autonomous license for use on public roads.

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This week, at a dramatic event atop the Hoover Dam, Freightliner and Daimler pulled the wraps off of their Inspiration truck, the first self-driving commercial truck in the world to receive a full license to operate on public roads. The autonomous truck is here, at least in the State of Nevada it is.

The Inspiration truck features a system called Highway Pilot, which uses forward looking stereoscopic cameras and radar sensors to give it an autonomous autopilot mode when cruising on the highway. The truck can steer to stay between lane markers and adjust its speed and braking to maintain a safe following distance behind other cars on the road all while the driver is free to do other things.

Now that we've all got all of the Transformers and Maximum Overdrive jokes out of our collective systems, I've picked out four things that you should know about the first coming of the autonomous truck.

It will help speed along autonomous car development.

Every mile than an autonomous vehicle spends robo-riding is another data point that helps automakers improve the next generation of self-driving cars. And no vehicle racks up more miles per year than a commercial truck. Much like how a Formula racer pushes performance technology to the limit to make your sports coupe just that much sharper, Freightliner's autonomous truck can be a goldmine of autonomous driving fine tuning gets the self-driving Mercedes-Benz of the future here sooner, safer, and more reliable.

The human driver is still the most important element.

The Freightliner Inspiration is a Level 3 autonomous vehicle. That means that the truck can cruise in its Highway Pilot mode while the driver does other things, but it still needs a human being in the seat. There's yet still a lot of important driving for the driver to do. This includes negotiating surface roads, exits and interchanges, and everything else that's not highway cruising. The human in the seat is also responsible for setting and supervising the Highway Pilot mode, stepping in when conditions (like snow) prevent autonomous driving, and for negotiating the truck into loading bays.

Additionally, the driver retains full control over the vehicle at all times. Simply grabbing and turning the wheel or tapping the brake pedal immediately and instantly overrides the computer control.

This isn't some robo-truck that will replace truckers and take jobs away from people. (At least, not yet.) Rather, autonomous trucks like the Inspiration are a tool to make truckers' jobs easier and safer. Freightliner compares Highway Pilot to the autopilot system used on commercial airplanes every day, which handles basic cruising, but hasn't replaced the need for a pilot.

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