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Daimler ramps up self-driving truck efforts, launches global autonomous group

Daimler Trucks is betting big on autonomous trucks, as the German-based company announced Wednesday, May 29, that it is establishing a global group that seeks to put highly automated commercial trucks on U.S. highways within the next 10 years.

The newly established organization, called the Autonomous Technology Group, will be led by Peter Vaughan Schmidt, who currently serves as head of strategy of Daimler Trucks, the company said in a release.

“With the Autonomous Technology Group, we are bringing together our global experts and their vast knowledge in automated trucking,” Schmidt said in a statement. “In the first stage, we will focus on use cases of highly automated driving in defined areas and between defined hubs in the U.S.A.”

The group will focus its efforts on Level 4 autonomous driving technology, which means the truck can perform all driving tasks, but has a driver in the cab to take over if needed.

The Society of Automotive Engineers has assigned six levels of automation, from Level 0 where the human does all of the driving, up to Level 5, where the vehicle can handle all of the driving tasks without human intervention.

“The main tasks of the new unit comprise overall strategy and implementation of the automated driving roadmap, including research and development, as well as setting up the required operations infrastructure and network, heading toward the series production of highly automated trucks,” Daimler said in the release.

Daimler Trucks announced in late March that it was buying a majority stake in Torc Robotics, another play in the company’s efforts to expand its presence in autonomous technology. Headquartered in Blacksburg, Virginia, Torc has developed Level 4 self-driving technology that will be equipped on Daimler trucks, pending approval of the acquisition.

Daimler announced its investment of over $570 million toward its efforts to develop Level 4 trucks in January at the Consumer Electronics Show [CES] in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The largest truck maker debuted its 2020 Freightliner Cascadia, equipped with Level 2 autonomous driving technology, at CES. Level 2 automation means the advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) on the vehicle can assist the driver with steering, braking and acceleration. The new Cascadia is the first Level 2 truck to enter series production in North America.

“We’re fully committed to demonstrating the enormous advantages of highly automated driving first here in the U.S.A.,” said Roger Nielsen, chief executive of Daimler Trucks North America.

Daimler was the first to hit the highways with a partially autonomous commercial vehicle, the Freightliner Inspiration truck, back in 2015. However, the German company is facing stiff competition as other self-driving trucking companies are ramping up their autonomous vehicle road tests.

Self-driving truck startup TuSimple announced recently that the United States Postal Service (USPS) has awarded it a contract to perform five round trips, for a two-week pilot, hauling the agency’s trailers more than 1,000 miles between its distribution centers in Phoenix, Arizona and Dallas, Texas.

The pilot marks the first time a U.S. government agency fleet has publicly announced road tests with a Level 4 autonomous system, said Robert Brown, TuSimple’s director for public affairs.

Starsky Robotics is also pushing forward with its autonomous truck technology. The self-driving truck startup completed a series of road tests, with a driver behind the wheel, on a section of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway near Tampa, Florida, in mid-May.

Starsky completed a 7-mile driverless trip in February 2018 in Florida and is gearing up a second trip sometime later this year, Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, chief executive and co-founder of Starsky Robotics, told FreightWaves.

Martin Daum, global head of Daimler Trucks and Buses, said the company is taking the next step toward Level 4 automation with the formation of its new autonomous group.

“With the new unit, we will maximize the effectiveness of our automated driving efforts and the impact of our investments in this key strategic technology,” he said. “We will therefore be in the perfect position to put highly automated driving onto the roads, making transportation safer, saving lives and helping trucking companies boost their productivity.”

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Clarissa Hawes

Clarissa has covered all aspects of the trucking industry for 13 years. She is an award-winning journalist known for her investigative and business reporting. Prior to joining FreightWaves, she wrote for Land Line Magazine and Trucks.com. Clarissa lives in Grain Valley, Missouri, with her family.

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