Last week Mercedes-Benz demonstrated the "Future Truck 2025;" one of their Actros 1845 commercial rigs with 12-speeds, 1,600 lb-ft of torque, and a full suite of self-driving tech they call the Highway Pilot. They say we'll be not-driving it in a decade.
"The truck of the future is a Mercedes-Benz that drives itself," said Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, the member of Daimler's Board of Management responsible for Daimler Trucks and Buses at the truck's demonstration presentation.
I mentioned this to a longshoreman who deals with autonomous container-moving tech all day, who was less enthusiastic; "I hope it works better than our stuff, because our stuff works horribly."
But the demo went well enough; the truck hit about 53 MPH on a section of the A14 Autobahn in Germany, near the city of Magdeburg running itself through lane changes and coming to a stop.
Maybe we won't have to worry about that trucker shortage for much longer, after all.
It seems like the biggest pieces the technology requires are in place; but I think Mercedes will have plenty of time to work out the kinks while regulators decide how to legislate self-driving semi-trucks.
Here's a quick breakdown of all the fun gadgets that make this enormous hauler able to drive itself:
A two radar sensors mounted in the bottom of the truck's front bumper watch the road; a long-range unit that looks 250 meters of the road ahead at 18º, and a short range one that focuses on the 70 meters in front of the truck at wide 130º.
It's basically an extension of Mercedes' existing Proximity Control Assist and Emergency Braking Assist.
Two-Eyed "Stereo" Camera
A twin-lens "stereo" camera looks 60 meters ahead at 170º to "identify single- and double-lanes, pedestrians, moving and stationary objects" and monitor road surface.
This camera also reads road signs and lane markers to get the truck where it needs to go.
Mercedes calls the amalgamation of data that the Highway Pilot central computer crunches through a multi-core processor a "multisensor fusion."
"The sensor and camera technology is active throughout the speed range from standstill to the legally permitted maximum truck speed of 80 KMH (about 50 MPH). By intervening in the steering, it automatically keeps the truck safely in the center of its lane. The system also includes a three-dimensional digital map, which is already used for the assistance system Predictive Powertrain Control (PPC). This means that the truck is always fully aware of the road's course and topography."
Vehicle-To-Vehicle "V2V" Communication
The truck transmits a "CAM (Corporate Awareness Message) continuously up to 500 meters away. The vehicle uses this to announce its presence. The information content includes vehicle position and model, dimensions, direction of travel and speed, any acceleration and braking maneuvers and the bend radii negotiated."
These reports are "overlaid with DEN messages (Decentralized Environmental Notification). These give a warning of unusual events, for example emergency braking, activation of the hazard warning system or switching on fog lamps."
Highway Pilot-equipped trucks will be able to receive this info too and add the trajectories of other cars to its route planning, once other vehicles become equipped with similar "virtual sirens."
Vehicle-To-Infrastructure "V2I" Communication
Highway Pilot will be able to pull data from transmitting traffic control stations to incorporate information about traffic and known road conditions into its decision-making process as well.
Images & Info from Mercedes-Benz