Daimler Trucks is testing high-automation trucks on public roads in Virginia, following through on a pledge to make Level 4 automation a reality this year.
The subsidiary of Stuttgart, Germany-based Daimler AG accelerated its testing efforts through the purchase of 13-year-old software provider Torc Robotics in March. Daimler plans to commercially produce heavy-duty trucks that can drive themselves in most situations within the decade.
“Bringing Level 4 trucks to the public roads is a major step toward our goal to deliver reliable and safe trucks for the benefit of our customers, our economy and society,” said Martin Daum, member of the Daimler AG Board of Management responsible for trucks and buses.
Daimler, maker of Freightliner and Western Star Class 8 trucks, joins startups TuSimple, Starsky Robotics and Embark in public testing of Level 4 technology that could eventually remove drivers from behind the wheel of freight haulers.
That is several years and extensive safety testing away, Daum said.
Daimler’s 2020 Freightliner Cascadia offers an optional package of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that comprise the industry’s first Level 2 partially automated system. Drivers can take their hands off the wheel for up to 15 seconds but must remain ever vigilant while the truck is moving.
TuSimple and Embark both haul freight on defined routes in the southwest United States. United Parcel Service (NYSE: UPS) in August took a minority stake in TuSimple, the first investment by a logistics provider in an autonomous trucking company. In May, TuSimple completed a two-week demonstration hauling mail for the U.S. Postal Service from Arizona to Texas.
Embark moves refrigerators from El Paso, TX to California. Working with digital freight brokerage Loadsmart, Starsky Robotics recently priced, booked and delivered two loads of freight without human intervention.
Volvo AB’s U.D. Trucks subsidiary tested a Level 4 truck in Japan in August, covering the route to and through a sugar processing facility in Hokkaido, the northernmost prefecture on the main island.
Daimler in May merged its autonomous efforts into the Daimler Trucks Autonomous Technology Group, sharing lessons learned in Germany and Blacksburg, VA and Portland, OR.
“On the one side, we have to decide how to power those units.” Daum said. “The other is how do we solve congestion, infrastructure, accidents and so on.”
Torc Robotics, which has tested autonomous vehicles in 20 states, thinks the interplay between its software and Daimler’s hardware will increase the safety of autonomous operation.
“One of the things I am super-excited about is how strong the business case is for automated trucks,” said Michael Fleming, Torc chief executive in a podcast with Daum. “The operating environment we see on highways and interstates is much simpler than we see in urban settings.”
The on-road testing in southwest Virginia is close to Torc’s headquarters. Daimler and Torc tested the trucks on a closed-loop track before venturing onto highways. Each Level 4 truck has an engineer and safety driver on board who can take over operation of the truck if necessary.
“Being part of Daimler Trucks is the start of a new chapter for Torc,” Fleming said. “Daimler and Torc are both in it for the long term. When we first met, the answers Daimler provided us were exactly the same answers we had internally.”
Daimler Trucks North America is focusing on evolving automated driving technology and integrating redundant safety systems into a custom chassis for highly automated driving. It is also planning infrastructure that includes a main control center and logistics hubs along high-density freight corridors near interstates and highways.
“As we pair Daimler’s expertise in building safe and reliable trucks with Torc’s genius in engineering Level 4 vehicles, we have no doubt we will do great things in the future,” said Roger Nielsen, DTNA president and CEO. “The U.S. highways are the perfect place to develop automated driving technology.”