Daimler Trucks has started testing level 4 autonomous Freightliner trucks on public roads in North America.
The initial routes are on highways in southwest Virginia, where Daimler’s recently acquired autonomous vehicle specialist Torc Robotics is headquartered. The on-road trial, which follows extensive track testing, requires both an engineer and a highly trained safety driver travel in the cabs.
Martin Daum, member of the board of management of Daimler AG, responsible for trucks and buses, said: “Bringing level 4 trucks to the public roads is a major step toward our goal to deliver reliable and safe trucks for the benefits of our customers, our economies and society.” Scania L360 8X4: Low-entry cab test
With an automatic kneeling function on the air suspension, luxurious cab trim, low-noise levels and excellent field of view, Scania’s L360 is every low-entry cab driver’s dream.
The Scania L-series is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive vehicles on British roads, attracting lots of double-takes from oncoming drivers and passers-by alike. Not only is its appearance so unlike anything else on the road, but it’s so new that most people will never have seen one before, particularly in the rather conspicuous Blaze Orange paint. The effect is even greater as a tipper. It’s not often you see a tipper body’s headboard and ram above the cab roof. From the side, the long and low tipper and long and low cab just inches above the ground give it the appearance of a racing snake.
The L-series is the ultimate extension of Scania’s modular construction philosophy, where the same larder of ingredients are mixed and matched to create a veritable smörgåsbord of variants, from the low-entry L-series up to the ¬flat¬ floor, high-roof S-series long-haul tractor. Apparently, the only major component common to all is the windscreen.
Climbing aboard the L-series cab is a similar experience from either side. The slam doors, which only open to 85 degrees but cause no major hindrances on the inside, and the generously sized alloy-treaded steps, are the same on both sides. There’s a significant step up, which might challenge stiff old joints, but it’s reduced to its minimum by the automatic kneeling function of the full-air suspension, activated when the electronic park brake is applied and dropping the height by 100mm. Getting into the driving seat is helped by the ¬ at bottom of the steering wheel and when there, the instrument panel looks much the same as any other Scania. The view to the outside looks distinctly alien, though, sitting so low and so far forward, although it helps that we drove a few airport catering trucks many years ago.
In the cab
All-round visibility is generally excellent, although the nearside lower window is rather pointless. If a passenger is carried – a highly likely possibility for this type of vehicle – their legs will obscure it, and even if they aren’t, visibility is reduced by some overlapping door trim. Not that it matters, because the mirrors are excellent and the other windows are generously sized, including those behind the B-pillars. They help to provide a distinctly bright and airy environment, helped by the light-coloured trim away from areas vulnerable to dirt, and the glazed roof hatch.
This example of the L-series is set up as a tipper, with just one passenger seat in its low-roof day cab, which like the driver’s, is luxuriously trimmed in black leather. Other cab options are the normal-height day cab, 340mm higher, and the high-roof day cab, which adds another 260mm. Of course, different interior layouts to suit the number of crew are also available. Cross-cab access, essential in some of the applications that the L-series will be put into, is slightly hindered by the 200mm engine tunnel, but rather more so by the display for the Brigade camera system and a tablet mounting bracket, as well as the Alco-lock. This ensures that before you go anywhere, you must convince a computer you are sober enough to start work.
In this format, the L-series has masses of in-cab storage space. While overscreen space is inevitably limited by the low roof, there are still a couple of shallow locations, but there is plenty of room for loose bags, PPE and clothing behind the seats, together with wall-mounted storage nets, a lidded central bin and a large open tray on the engine hump, which is ideal for keeping drinks, documents and other oddments tidy.
On the road
So having had a good enough look around the cab to begin to feel at home, it was time to experience the L-series’ dynamic qualities out on the road. Our example was an L360, its 5-cylinder 9.3-litre engine’s rating being the highest of four, starting at 280hp, coupled to a two-pedal 12-speed Opticruise transmission. The chassis was an 8×4 tridem, with the middle pair of axles doing the driving, and carried a Wilcox Wilcolite body.
Leaving our base, the ¬first two challenges were joining a busy main road from an entrance shared with a filling station, then heading straight into a five-way roundabout. Although you never become unaware of the driving position, sitting on the long overhang ahead of the front axle, no real allowances need to be made during manoeuvring. The only feature of the low-slung driving position is that it seems to encourage driving too close to the left side of the road, initially requiring a conscious effort to keep away from the verge. This might not have been so noticeable were it not for the rather hard ride on potholes and trenches, so adding to the bumps by driving over drain covers wasn’t a good idea.
The slightly bumpy ride, though, was more than compensated for by the L-series’ noise levels. Typically for Scania’s products, the reading at tickover was barely above the background level outside, and at top speed, it proved to be in a different league to its rivals. The only distraction – though a signi¬ficant one – was that the Brigade blind-spot system seemed to be set to detect England, with a noisy intrusion at every opportunity. With leather seats and premium saloon car noise levels, low-entry cab drivers have never had it so good.