Self-driving Mercedes robot-truck debuts on German autobahn (VIDEO)

© Daimler AG
Daimler and Mercedes-Benz have taken the first autonomous-driving truck for a spin on a motorway in southern Germany, after a special license was issued that allowed the robot truck to hit the public-access road.

The Mercedes-Benz Actros, a 430-horsepower truck, equipped with the intelligent ‘Highway Pilot’ system, drove for 14 kilometers (9 miles) on the A8 motorway, without the help of the driver. Fitted with smart systems including radars, cameras and active speed regulators, the truck made a successful journey between Stuttgart airport and Denkendorf.

Daimler unveiled the technology in May on the Hoover Dam in Nevada, but on Friday, a special permit was issued by the Baden-Wurttemberg state which allowed the truck to drive on motorways on an automated basis.

“The multi-sensor fusion, i.e. the combination of proven new-generation assistance and safety systems and sensors, enables the truck with the Highway Pilot system to continually observe the entire area in front of the vehicle and to take control itself in certain situations,” Daimler said in a press release.

While praising great results in autopilot system’s ability to operate fully autonomously, the engineers still stressed the importance of having a driver present in the cabin at all times. Daimler says that the Highway Pilot is able to steer the truck by itself, while the driver “retains full responsibility, needs to monitor the traffic at all times and must be able to intervene at any time.”

Daimler explained that during Friday’s test drive, the system offered the driver the chance to take over the truck’s operation as soon as the vehicle entered the flowing traffic in the right-hand lane.

The driver at this point had the option of confirming or denying actions at the press of a button. Kept on self-driving mode, Actros successfully stayed in its lane while maintaining safe distance to the vehicle in front of at 80 kilometers per hour. It also did well with breaking. Just before finishing the test, the system asked the driver to take control with the truck reverting from automated driving mode to manual control or ‘Highway Pilot Off.’

“Today's premiere is a further important step towards the market maturity of autonomously driving trucks–and towards the safe, sustainable road freight transport of the future,” said Wolfgang Bernhard, board member responsible for Daimler Trucks and Buses, who was on board the vehicle as it made its debut.

Daimler explained that should the driver bad driving conditions, the system would alert the driver to take over the controls with audible and visual signals. If for some reason the driver fails to respond, the truck will be brought to a full stop automatically.

Prior to debut, Actros’ front-mounted radar and a stereo camera, as well as Daimler's Adaptive Cruise Control system, have already been tested for around 20,000 kilometers on test routes in Germany and the United States.

State premier Winfried Kretschmann, who was present in the cabin seat, praised the safety features of the truck.

“Autonomously driving and networked vehicles improve the flow of traffic and can play a decisive role in helping to avoid traffic jams and relieving the strain on drivers,” he said in a statement. “They also boost traffic safety.”

Daimler also said that the autonomous truck’s design generates at least five percent fewer CO2 emissions, thanks to optimized gear shifting, acceleration and braking.