Robo trucks: Daimler Truck wants to put autonomous trucks on the road in series

Robo trucks: Daimler Truck wants to put autonomous trucks on the road in series

By the end of this decade, Daimler Truck wants to make self-driving trucks operational and offer them as standard. The company already sees itself as a leading manufacturer in the development of autonomous trucks with safety-relevant redundant driving systems at SAE Level 4 (L4). At this level, the system takes full control for defined applications and then no longer needs to be monitored by the human in the vehicle. With its independent subsidiary Torc Robotics and partners, the group now intends to massively advance development, initially in the USA.

Neither tired nor inattentive, no breaks

“We are working flat out on autonomous truck transport because everyone can benefit from it,” reported Martin Daum, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler Trucks, last week at a presentation of the state of the art at their own test center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Level 4 self-driving trucks will help improve road safety, as autonomous systems will neither tire nor become inattentive. In addition, efficiency in logistics will increase because trucks don’t need a break and are therefore on the road more.

Daum is certain that robotic trucks will help “to cope with the constantly growing volume of freight, especially in times when there is a shortage of drivers”. “The virtual driver is the perfect driver,” the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) quoted him as saying. He does not share worries that many truckers could become superfluous. In the US, about six percent of the total annual freight volume is “autonomously capable”, he explained to the news. If the volume now increases by up to 50 percent in the next ten years, but there are already “far too few drivers”, then there will be “a good solution” at least for small parts of the transport traffic.

According to Daimler Truck, experts from the company, together with Torc, have made “significant progress in autonomous driving” since the takeover three years ago. Typical driving scenarios such as changing lanes – but also demanding traffic situations on highways – were “intensively tested” during this time. Torc has provided evidence that its autonomous driving software can navigate safely on freeways.

Humans take over on the “last mile”

In the meantime, the company, which specializes in robotic vehicles, has expanded test operations on roads and demonstrated self-driving L4 trucks “with extended capabilities in more complex scenarios”. The vans are equipped with lidar, radar and camera technology. This enables “driving behavior that is adapted to the respective situation on feeder roads and driveways as well as when turning at intersections”.

Daimler Truck considers these machine skills to be essential for the “hub-to-hub” concept that it helped develop. In this scenario, driver-driven trucks are supposed to deliver goods on the “first mile” to transfer hubs. These are located near highways that lie in major US freight corridors. According to the plan, L4 autonomous trucks take over the trailer and freight there, which they then transport independently over long distances from one hub to the other.

As soon as the autonomous articulated lorries reach the destination transhipment point, people take over again for the “last mile,” according to the company. “I can’t imagine a 40-ton truck without a driver in city traffic,” Daum explained the approach to ARD. At the same time, the mixed concept brings “a major improvement” for the colleagues on the job: “The driver is back home in the evening.” Nobody has to be on the road for ten days at a time.

Europe lacks the “enthusiasm”

According to Daimler Truck, the USA “with its long highways, the increasing need for goods transport, large truck fleets and the future-oriented regulatory authorities offer an ideal first field of application for the use of this new technology”. In Europe he still lacks the necessary “enthusiasm”, said Daum of the FAZ. In addition, a European legal framework is needed, which should be in place by 2030, emphasized the manager on ARD. Then see further. In principle, everything from the Freightliner New Cascadia tested in the USA also fits into the European Actros. Germany has already legally regulated fully automated driving at L4 level.

Daum justifies the rather sluggish transition in the industry to electric or fuel cell drives by saying that in addition to suitable vehicles such as the E-Actros in Europe, the necessary charging infrastructure is necessary. The wall box in the garage at home is not enough: “It then takes at least 300 kilowatts to charge for a whole night, or one megawatt.” There were even fewer refueling options for hydrogen. Furthermore, the battery-powered truck must “be cheaper to run – including the purchase price – than the conventional one”. It’s not that far yet.

To tackle the next steps and to include specific customer requirements at an early stage, Torc is now cooperating with leading logistics companies to run through real use cases. The members of the created Torc Autonomous Advisory Council (TAAC) include Schneider, Covenant Logistics, Penske Truck Leasing, Ryder System, CH Robinson and Baton as well as Daimler Truck North America as the vehicle manufacturer.



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