A new line of partially autonomous semi-trucks will start production in July, according to Mashable, from Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz. The new models of the Freightliner Cascadia will offer a new degree of autonomous driving, ranking as Level 2 automation on the Society of Automotive Engineers’ self-driving scale.
The vehicle does require a driver, but Daimler’s Level 2 trucks are able to steer, brake, and accelerate autonomously in certain circumstances.
In this case, Level 2 leaves the driver in control of the vehicle, but with supportive automation such as lane centering, adaptive cruise control, and automatic emergency braking, if a driver does not respond to collision alerts.
Blind spot detection also helps alert the driver to other vehicles even before collisions are imminent.
Also, if the truck begins drifting into another lane, and the driver hasn’t activated a turn signal, a rumble warning will alert the driver, and the truck will re-center itself back in its lane.
Other automated features include windshield wipers that respond to weather, and automatic headlight adjustments.
These features allow truck drivers to let automation handle some of burden of long, monotonous trips.
However, it also includes a feature to make sure the driver stays engaged while using the lane centering feature. A sensor in the steering column tracks resistance against the steering wheel, and after 15 seconds of detecting the driver’s hands are off the wheel, gives an audio warning. After 60 seconds, the truck automatically pulls over and stops.
While automation is limited compared with the prospect of a fully self-driving truck, the Cascadia also manages to accomplish its automation with few sensors. Tesla’s Autopilot uses dozens of sensors, cameras, and radars. The Cascadia uses only a forward camera, forward radar, and a second radar on the truck’s right side.
The company released a prototype in 2015, called the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, on which the Cascadia is based. According to The Verge, the new model refines and improves on its performance, with improved lane centering and the option to allow a driver to hug one side of the lane or the other, depending on the circumstances – such as on a one-lane highway with limited space.
The next step will be a move toward Level 4 autonomous trucks, which Daimler Trucks CEO Martin Daum says will be available very soon. These trucks would boast full autonomy in most situations, climates, and weather. With driver shortages plaguing the trucking industry, offering trucks that don’t require a licensed commercial driver would be an important step forward.
Many other companies, including Tesla, are working toward similar goals, but the Cascadia puts Daimler on track to be the first to bring a fully autonomous truck to the market. Following a legal battle with Waymo, Uber halted its own autonomous truck program.
Daum told The Verge:
“We want to put a Level 4 truck on the road here in the United States this year. Stay tuned.”