Freightliner used the legendary Hoover Dam as the backdrop for a dramatic reveal recently, showing off the Inspiration Truck. It’s the first autonomous semi in the United States. Daimler, which is the parent company of Freightliner and Mercedes-Benz, is touting the new technology as a way to help truckers avoid exhaustion on long hauls, conserve fuel and even save lives.
Homer Simpson once drove a big rig and in the process discovered that it and every other semi on the road had a computer that actually did all of the driving. Freightliner’s Highway Pilot tech isn’t quite that advanced, because the driver still needs to be sitting behind the wheel and actively piloting the vehicle. Research done by Daimler uncovered that a good amount of commercial truck crashes have to do with the driver feeling tired, which is exactly what the Inspiration Truck is supposed to guard against.
Already, Freightliner has racked up over 10,000 miles with the new truck while testing it out. Its research shows that the autonomous functions actually help drivers focus more and for longer periods of time, cutting down on drowsy driving. The NHTSA classifies the truck’s automation at a level 3, which is the second-highest level. The vehicle can drive itself without human intervention in certain conditions, but the driver can take over whenever.
The Inspiration Truck calls Nevada home, where it has an autonomous vehicle license plate. While you might not see it tooling down roads where you live, it will still have an impact that will be felt everywhere in the near future. It’s providing real-world feedback on how the autonomous technology operates in unpredictable situations, which is another step toward using it on a large production scale.
Among the sensors on the truck are long- and short-range radar, plus a stereo camera. It also uses adaptive cruise control to speed up and slow down according to traffic flow. The truck cannot pass, leave the highway or exceed the speed limit without the driver intervening.