First Self-Driving Semi Hits American Roads
Self-driving cars seem likely enough; there’s still several tech and legal hurdles to clear, not to mention the question of how much they’ll cost, but most experts inside and out of the auto industry see them as inevitable given enough time. Now, Daimler’s Freightliner unit wants to push long-haul trucking in the same direction.
Unveiled atop the Hoover Dam, the Freightliner Inspiration Truck is the first semi granted a license in the United States for autonomous driving, for tests on Nevada highways (note the special license plate in the photos below.) Equipped with arrays of cameras and radars, along with extensive software controls, the two Inspiration Trucks built by Freightliner can steer in a lane, maintain speeds and brake without human intervention at highway speeds. It also has to know when to alert the driver to take control; that driver of course has to handle all non-highway duties as well.
While Freightliner has shown off concept trucks in the past, the Inspiration trucks are far less dramatic and futuristic. Freighliner execs say such models will eventually reach production, because many of the same anticipated benefits of self-driving cars — improved safety, better fuel efficiency — apply to commercial vehicles as well. But in the business world, cost matters most of all, and given how nascent the technology is, the cost benefits remain hypothetical.
There’s also the issue of the people who make their living driving trucks, and what a machine like this means for them. Freightliner emphasized in its demo that the Inspiration trucks were not close to driver-free machines, saying drivers of future production models “can optimize their time on the road while also handling other important logistical tasks, from scheduling to routing.” Long-haul trucking isn’t an office job yet, but if the Inspiration truck is any guide, it may be heading down that road.