Self-Driving Trucks Are Now On The Open Road

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If driving on the road with 18 wheelers stresses you out now, imagine sharing the road with self-driving trucks? Passing on the right could either be really good or really scary. (I’d hope sensors would do a better job at detecting obstacles in blind spots than human drivers.) And what’s even scarier? Self-driving trucks on a highway with no speed limit.

German automaker Daimler conducted its first-ever test of its semi-autonomous Highway Pilot system, driving a Mercedes-Bens Actros down the Autobahn.

This is the first trucking vehicle to drive using automated navigational technology on an open motorway (and the first company to receive a permit to operate a self-driving vehicle on German motorways).

The truck has a bunch of Mercedes safety systems, including the Mercedes PowerShift 3, Predictive Powertrain Control, Active Brake Assist 3, proximity control, drowsiness detection and a Fleetboard computer. These systems all communicate with Highway Pilot to make sure that the truck stays within its lane and avoids colliding with other vehicles and obstacles on the road.

While the truck needed a crew to keep watch, it was able to steer itself down the highway using a combination of radar, a stereo camera array and off-the-shelf systems like adaptive cruise control.

The technology seems to be favorable (Prime Minister of the state of Baden-Württemberg Winifried Kretschmann even came along for the ride), and shows signs of hope for autonomous vehicles.

European law still doesn’t permit regular autonomous driving, let alone for giant cargo haulers, but this trial could make a better case for approving some form of self-driving transportation.

Of course, there’s still plenty of work left before this tech can handle the open road (and the high speeds of the Autobahn), but it’s nice to see this technology can work on just about any vehicle, not just Google’s tiny set of wheels.

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