In terms of autonomous driving technology, the freight transport industry is one of the most logical applications out there. Almost all of the work is done on the freeway — where self-driving cars work best — and computers never get distracted, fatigued, or bored. They’re also more efficient, with optimized shifting, braking, and acceleration to consume resources at only the appropriate time. Fast-forward 10 years and many of the tractor-trailers that roam the highways today may very well be controlled completely by computers.
We inched one step closer to that future today, as Mercedes-Benz has announced its self-driving Actros semi — fitted with the brand’s autonomous Highway Pilot system — has completed its maiden voyage down the Autobahn in Germany. The vehicle stretched its proverbial legs on the A8 between Denkendorf and Stuttgart, with none other than Daimler’s truck and bus manager on board.
“Today’s premiere is a further important step towards the market maturity of autonomously driving trucks – and toward the safe, sustainable road freight transport of the future,” said Daimler Executive Board member Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard. “During the world premiere of our Freightliner Inspiration truck in the U.S.A. in May, we announced that the Highway Pilot would soon also be tested on German roads – and just five months later we have achieved this interim goal.”
To be clear, the Actros is closer to semiautonomous than fully autonomous. The vehicle can steer, accelerate, and brake all on its own, but the driver must retain awareness and monitor traffic at all times and also be ready to intervene if needed. The Highway Pilot system utilizes a front-mounted radar unit as well as a stereo camera, and Mercedes says Highway Pilot vehicles have already travelled nearly 12,500 miles on test routes around the globe.
According to the brand’s studies, approximately 66 percent of all traffic accidents involve rear-end collisions, lane drift, drowsiness, distraction, and driving errors. Highway Pilot all but eliminates all of these dangers. “It is alert, concentrated, and relaxed,” Mercedes says. “Without exception, round the clock, seven days a week.”
The Actros isn’t the only self-driving big rig on the roads today. A Chinese firm called Yutong recently sent an autonomous bus packed with passengers on a 20-mile trek through the city of Zhengzhou. The people-carrier completed its journey without incident, and you can read the full story right here.