Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Trucks Are Alive! Freightliner Gets License to Run Autonomous Semi Truck

Freightliner Inspiration Truck

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In Stephen King’s short story Trucks, a bunch of trucks go on a murderous melee, cleaning off a rural town without mercy. If you have an irrational fear of trucks gaining sentience and exterminating every human they find, well, run and grab your tinfoil hat and seek shelter, because Freightliner has just received the first Nevada state license to operate an autonomous semi-truck on public highways. To those who don’t happen to suffer from heart palpitations at the sound of air brakes or a rumbling diesel engine, Freightliner’s news is a bit more expected. After all, is there an industry for which autonomous driving capability makes more sense than trucking?

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Freightliner Inspiration Truck

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Freightliner, which is part of the Daimler Trucks group, has taken advantage of that conglomerate’s access to self-driving tech to create its new Inspiration Truck. Yes, it’s really called that. As you’d expect, the Inspiration comes with a front radar sensor, as well as stereoscopic cameras and other sensors that help the truck situate itself on the road. Freightliner borrows Active Cruise Control+ from the Euro Mercedes-Benz Actros truck, and it bundles all of this tech under the “Highway Pilot Technology” banner.

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Similar to the various makers of road cars that are exploring self-driving tech, Freightliner cites safety, driver-fatigue mitigation, and fuel economy as reasons to pursue autonomous features in trucks. According to Freightliner’s parent company, “Measurements of brain currents (EEG) demonstrated that driver drowsiness decreases by about 25 percent when the truck is being operated in autonomous mode, and the driver all the while pursuing other meaningful operations.” When truckers are paid primarily to, you know, drive trucks, we’re not sure what “other meaningful operations” Daimler is on about here—likely paperwork and route monitoring—but there’s no question a self-driving truck cuts the guys a break now and again.

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Freightliner Inspiration Truck

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Somewhat amusingly, Daimler trucks also boasts that the Inspiration Truck shows off Freightliner’s leadership in reducing cost-of-ownership for its customers. According to the CEO of Daimler Trucks North America: “Freightliner Trucks has infinite inspiration when it comes to improving real cost of ownership for our customers,” adding that the “Inspiration Truck is the latest example of how we meet the challenges faced by our customers through innovation.” That may be true for, say, a future fleet manager—after all, eliminate the driver, and trucking’s overhead drops considerably. We have to imagine that the individual truck owners of tomorrow might not like a totally driver-free truck, since, well, you get it.

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So far, the Inspiration has covered more than 10,000 miles on a test circuit in Germany, but with its Nevada autonomous-vehicle license (similar to those handed out to Google, Audi, and others), Freightliner can now begin testing its self-driving big rig on public roads for real. And don’t worry, it seems unlikely that the Freightliner Inspiration will go on a Trucks-style rampage. At least, we’re pretty sure it won’t.

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The Trucks Are Alive! Freightliner Gets License to Run Autonomous Semi Truck

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