Self-driving cars are once again taking center stage at CES 2019. But autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle technology isn’t limited to just passenger cars and SUVs. Case in point: Daimler has announced that it will soon begin selling big rigs with semi-autonomous technology to keep trucks from drifting out of their lanes.
It’s a big jump for the company, and one that could help save lives on the road. But don’t expect Daimler to start talking about fully autonomous trucking anytime soon. That, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America Roger Nielsen says, is still quite a long time from becoming a reality.
Making trucking safer
Daimler’s latest semi-autonomous feature is ranked as a level 2 system by the Society for Automotive Engineers. SAE rankings range from Level 0, which is a normal manually controlled vehicle, up to Level 5, which is a completely autonomous robot car.
Level 2 means that Daimler’s new trucks can brake and accelerate and stay in their lanes on their own under certain conditions. A driver still has to maintain complete control of the vehicle at all times, so they won’t be able to take a nap, or watch a movie while driving down the highway. However, if the system senses that the truck is drifting out of its lane or that it is about to rear-end another vehicle, it will take measures to intervene.
“Traffic is getting tighter, you go through construction zones — anything we can do to make the life less stressful for a driver, we want to do,” Nielsen said. “Because that attracts more drivers to the business, helps our fleets keep them, and make them happy.”
Crucially for big rigs, Daimler’s new technology will allow the trucks to remain centered in their lanes. That’s a big improvement for truckers, as well as other drivers. Nearly everyone who drives has experienced the anxiety of driving next to a truck as its veers dangerously close to your lane.
Daimler’s SAE Level 2 features will be available in its Freightliner Cascadia, which will see a full market launch in July and begin hitting the road in August.
Self-driving trucks are a long way off
Despite the hype surrounding self-driving cars, the reality is we’re still decades away from fully autonomous vehicles taking to America’s roadways. And that’s just as true of autonomous trucks.
“Oh, it’s definitely not happening tomorrow,” Nielsen said. “We’re working on the next step, which we call Level 4.” Level 4 autonomous technology would allow trucks to drive on their own in certain areas during specific situations without a driver.
Nielsen said Daimler is going to skip the SAE’s Level 3 systems, which would allow trucks to perform some tasks on the road, but require a driver to fall back on.
“We’re going to skip Level 3. We think nothing is there for Level 3 for a trucker driver,” Nielsen explained. “But when we go to Level 4 and highly automated driving, then we’ll get to the point where we can start talking to regulatory agencies and so forth, about relieving [drivers] from hours of service rules and break rules and so on and so forth.”
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