The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, October 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode.
The new 430-horsepower truck, loaded with 40 tons of cargo, slowly pulled out of the parking lot in Stuttgart, driven by the head of Daimler’s trucks and buses division, Wolfgang Bernhard.
Chatting with him in the passenger seat was Winfred Kretschmann, the prime minister of Baden-Wuerttemberg, the first German state to issue a license for autonomous trailer-trucks.
Once on the highway, the driver lets the truck take over the steering, said Wolfgang Bernhard of the Daimler Trucks and Buses Division.
“If I press this button now, we are on the road and we have actually begun the world premiere," he said. "Shall we do it, prime minister? Let's do it.”
Soon, the truck was self-driving down the busy A8 highway, near Stuttgart, at 80 kilometers per hour, followed by a car with cameras and, just in case, a police car.
That doesn't mean the driver can zone out, there are strict rules for the person behind the wheel, said Bernhard.
“I'm not allowed to turn around," he added. "I'm not allowed to turn to the side because I have to continue to monitor the traffic situation. But I can take my hands off the wheel and, as you can see, the steering is smooth and the vehicle remains on track.”
A radar and a number of video cameras and sensors constantly monitor the road conditions. In adverse situations the truck will ask the driver to take over and, if he does not, it will automatically slow to a stop.
Daimler says its advanced trucks will relieve the drivers from the strain of driving on monotonous stretches of the road and in stop-and-go traffic jams.
The company hopes necessary laws permitting such operations elsewhere could be passed before the initial goal of 2020.