ANYONE WHO RUNS A TRUCK FLEET HAS SEEN TECHNOLOGY TRANSFORM IT OVER THE LAST TWO DECADES. LOGICALLY, THEY SHOULDN’T BE SURPRISED BY THE IDEA OF AN AUTONOMOUS TRUCK. IAN NORWELL REPORTS FROM LAS VEGAS, WHERE THE WORLD’S FIRST AUTONOMOUS VEHICLE (AV) ‘LICENSE’ PLATE HAS BEEN FITTED TO A HEAVY TRUCK.
Most truck makers have been looking at further automation of commercial vehicles. Removing the element of human control brings safety and economic gains. Daimler (home to brands like Mercedes-Benz, Freightliner, Western Star and Fuso) account for a big slice of global truck sales: it’s not unusual for them to lead the technology race. At the massive Hannover IAA truck show last year, they ran a live demonstration – on a completed, but unopened, stretch of the A14 motorway near Magdeburg, close to Berlin.
Obligingly, local transport ministers gave Mercedes-Benz exclusive use of the road. Thirty assorted trucks, cars and vans simulated a 50mph traffic flow, while the Actros with ‘Highway Pilot’ happily nestled in the middle. Live, in-cab cameras showed the driver in his seat, but turned 45º, facing across the cab, busy with his paperwork and tablet. The truck was not only driving itself, but self-steering as well. When a police car, blue lights flashing, approached the rear of the convoy, the lines of traffic opened up for it to pass through. The Highway Pilot Actros was the first to react – detecting the approach electronically. But this was really a glorified test track, because there were no actual public vehicles involved.