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Daimler shows why a Level 2 autonomous safety package should be standard on all trucks

The 2020 model year Freightliner New Cascadia features technologies that qualify it as a Level 2 autonomous, but drivers shouldn’t be scared off by that. ( Photo: Brian Straight/FreightWaves )

What happens when a truck driver becomes distracted and pulls his or her attention from the road, letting go of the steering wheel in the process? In a typical tractor-trailer, disaster might strike. If they are driving a model-year 2020 Freightliner New Cascadia from Daimler Trucks North America (OTC: DMLRY) lives would likely be saved.

That was one of the lessons industry media members learned on Thursday, February 14, during a special ride and drive event in West Palm Beach, Florida. During the ride, a demonstration showed how the tractor responds during such an event. Using pressure-sensing technology in the steering wheel and heat-sensing technology in the seat, the truck’s safety system ensures a driver is in the seat and actively engaged. But, if that driver loses focus and/or connection with the steering wheel, a warning light illuminates on the display after about 10 seconds. About 10 seconds later, audible beeps started. If no action is taken by the driver, rapid beeping occurs before the Cascadia’s Detroit Assurance 5.0 safety system shuts down the lane keep assist portion that actively keeps the truck centered in a highway lane. The collision mitigation and lane departure systems continued to operate to maintain vehicle safety.

The Detroit Assurance 5.0 system, when installed with its optional features, makes the New Cascadia the first Level 2 autonomous commercial vehicle on the highway. Brian Daniels, product marketing manager, said that the system is designed to assist drivers to be safer.

“Our primary message is it is a safety system, a driver assistance system,” he said. “For example, if I was a truck driver, do I want to drive an autonomous truck, that might eliminate my job?”

Certainly, the technologies are impressive and are part of the buildup towards a time when autonomous trucks may someday rule the roads. But for now, the systems are designed to improve driver and roadway safety and reduce fatigue.

Detroit 5.0 is a step up over Detroit 4.0, introduced in 2017

“Customers would tell me that before we had this safety suite, the rate of incidents was about one in five, now it’s about one in 20,” explained Richard Howard, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Daimler Trucks North America.

Howard added that he has heard that the safety also reduces the cost of incidents, which are not as severe, but as much as 95 percent.

The four trucks that were part of the ride and drive were production vehicles, Daimler officials said, although official production does not begin until September 2019. Orders are now being taken for the vehicles.

The 2020 New Cascadia features a variety of aerodynamic enhancements and the new Detroit IPM 6 (Intelligent Powertrain Management, version 6) adds a layer of improved vehicle efficiency with 35 percent more maps installed that measure grade to assist the transmission in achieving optimal momentum and performance. The real star, though, is the Detroit Assurance 5.0.

The most important feature remains the ability of the driver to maintain control of the vehicle.

“We acknowledge the driver is the primary safety system in the truck, so if he gives input, it overrides the system,” Daniels said. An example of this is when going past a construction vehicle, the truck driver may want to move over but in doing so, the system will start to steer the truck back into its proper lane. The driver can always override that simply by continuing to steer the truck.

Detroit Assurance 5.0 features an integrated radar and camera system to provide its safety features, all of which continue to work if the camera goes offline due to visibility. The 4.0 version featured only radar.

“What the camera does is provide confidence that the object the radar sees is an object,” Daniels said. “All these things we are talking about supplement the most important safety feature, and that is the driver.”

The latest iteration of Detroit Assurance also adds object detection on moving pedestrians for the first time.

“With Detroit Assurance 5.0, we start to build beyond the [safety technologies] and build on the driver experience,” Daniels said.

Among the specific features of the system is adaptive cruise control which goes “down to zero.” That means when engaged, active cruise control will adjust the vehicle’s speed based on a set following distance (default is 3.5 seconds) all the way down to a stop. If the vehicle remains stopped for less than two seconds, once the traffic starts moving again, so will the Cascadia; longer than two seconds requires the driver to step on the pedal.

Among its standard features are active brake assist with full braking on moving pedestrians; adaptive cruise control; automatic wipers and headlamps (the wipers turn on when sensors detect moisture on the windshield; headlamps do the same for low light conditions); intelligent high beam (automatically turns on high beams when the camera detects no oncoming vehicles); and traffic sign display. While limited at this point, traffic sign display shows the driver current speed limit signs and a few other options within the dashboard display.

What turns the vehicle into a Level 2 autonomous vehicle are the optional features, that when combined with the standard items provide a new level of active safety.

Active lane assist is comprised on two components – lane departure protection and lane keep assist. If the truck begins to drift without the turn signal on, the lane departure protection provides a rumble sound to alert the driver as well as a visual warning before counter-steering the truck back into the lane. Lane keep assist is engaged when adaptive cruise control is activated and uses “micro-steering” movements to keep the truck centered in its lane.

Also new to the 2020 New Cascadia is side guard assist. Using a radar mounted just under the right side door, this system monitors for objects in the passenger side blind spot. Daniels said the cone-shaped detection system is set to cover a 53-foot trailer, so drivers using a 40-foot trailer would have an additional 13 feet. Those using a 60-foot trailer would have a seven-foot blind spot. Side guard assist includes lane change assist, which monitors objects at highway speeds; turn assist, which monitors objects are lower speeds; and trailer sweep assist, which monitors stationary items such as poles at low speed.

There is also an optional driver-facing camera so fleets can gain insight into driver behaviors and context for incidents to improve training. All the data is viewable through the Bendix Safety Direct portal.

While some might be scared by the idea of a “Level 2” autonomous truck, experiencing the safety features in the Detroit Assurance 5.0 package first-hand prove they work, and quite well. Daniels likened the advancement to airlines – airplanes have been flying themselves for decades, but there are still two pilots on each airline flight to handle management of the technologies and take-off and landing. He expects the same to hold true for trucking, even as Daimler builds additional safety functionality into its trucks.

Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]