An autonomous truck can steer itself on highways, but drivers are required to determine the truck's speed.
Like something you might see in a futuristic film, a demonstration was offered in early May of a driverless semi-trailer.
Similar to, but more ominous than, driverless cars that have been on display and on the roads in recent months, a driverless semi-trailer truck requires a driver at the wheel in preparation for unseen circumstances. But the truck does drive itself otherwise.
The demonstration was offered by Daimler and the truck is named Freightliner Inspiration. Daimler believes the automated semis will be on the roads for commercial use well before driverless cars are used by consumers.
The way the driverless semi is designed, a driver handles the rig on so-called surface roads, but once the truck hits the highway, the automation takes over. Cameras detect the lane lines.
When it is time to take an exit, or if bad weather occurs, the truck beeps to alert the driver. If the driver does not turn off the automation and begin driving the truck himself, the truck will slow and eventually come to a stop.
The term “driverless’’ means the vehicle is driving itself, but there is always a driver involved.
“You still have the driver in the driver’s seat, ready to take over at all times in case something goes wrong or the system encounters a situation it is not well prepared for,’’ said Wired magazine associate editor Alex Davies in an interview with National Public Radio.
The Inspiration is actually licensed for testing on highways in Nevada.
Daimler says the driverless semi (which it prefers to call “autonomous”) will not be used commercially for another 10 years as testing continues. But the goal is to help drivers avoid the monotony of watching the highway lines, which is determined to be the most tiring part of the job. That way, the driver will be more alert through the long drives.
“But we still need a driver in the driver’s seat, first of all just to handle surface-street driving,’’ Daimler says in its marketing materials.
“The results of our research are very clear,’’ said Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard of Daimler in an interview with the website The Verge. “We measured brain activity with (and) without autonomous function. It clearly shows that driver drowsiness decreases by about 25 percent when the truck is operating in autonomous mode.”
Sean O’Kane of The Verge was on hand for the company’s demonstration, held at Hoover Dam, and rode in the passenger seat of the Inspiration and wrote about his experiences.
“For the most part, the ride was unremarkable, which is essentially the whole point,’’ O’Kane wrote. “There was just one slight curve in State Road 604 that afforded the only uneasy moment; while there was no doubt in my mind the truck would make it through, my gut felt otherwise.”
O’Kane notes the Inspiration Highway Pilot system is reliant on highway lanes to be properly painted, otherwise it has nothing to see for guidance. Also, drivers is in control of the truck’s speed because the cameras cannot read speed limit signs.
Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.
In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.
McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.
McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy Buffett and all things Disney.