Long-haul truckers may not be too happy to hear it but according to Daimler board member Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, "The truck of the future is a Mercedes-Benz that drives itself." These are no hollow words either, as the German automaker has completed its first public road test of an autonomously-driven truck.
Given the slightly uninspiring name, "Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025", the autonomous truck took control over a section of the A14 Autobahn near Magdeburg in Germany, driving itself at speeds of up to 85 kmh (53 mph) in realistic driving conditions.
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Daimler's varied aims for the Future Truck include better safety, greater efficiency and better connectivity. In turn, these aims lead to "a more sustainable transport system to the benefit of the economy, society and consumers". Using various systems already pioneered in Mercedes' road cars--radar cruise control, automatic braking, lane-keeping assistance and more--the company promises "optimally executed" acceleration and braking for smoother traffic flow and reduced consumption and emissions.
Use of vehicle-to-vehicle technology means trucks sharing the road could travel closer together and in greater safety, taking up less space on the roads. Then there's the usual autonomous vehicle benefit: By removing human error, you reduce the chance of accidents and therefore all associated costs--legal costs, insurance and more. Mercedes-Benz is already exploring vehicles that can communicate back to other vehicles and even pedestrians, exploring the concept of "talking" robotics at a recent technology conference in Berlin.
Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 autonomous vehicle
Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 autonomous vehicleEnlarge Photo
Not that humans are completely redundant in this--Mercedes says its 'Highway Pilot' system will "upgrade" the job profile for truckers. Where drivers are currently expected to pound the highways for days on end, they could now use monotonous highway driving more productively. Daimler says it can open up time for drivers to perform tasks that might otherwise be handled by office workers. So maybe it's those working in offices that need to worry about autonomous trucks, rather than the drivers...
Either way, the current hurdle is a familiar one: Legislation. Daimler says it is maintaining dialogue with all possible stakeholders in autonomous vehicles, from government officials to business owners, hoping to extol the benefits of self-driving vehicles. In some countries, the ball is already rolling--Reuters reports that the Netherlands is already working on traffic laws allowing autonomous trucks to deliver goods from Rotterdam, Europe's largest port. Such plans could be enacted within five years--well ahead of Mercedes' 2025 future truck plans.