Truck drivers and diesel mechanics will always be necessary, but the self-driving truck, the Freightliner Inspiration Truck,  introduced in Nevada recently, demonstrated extra safety features.

The autonomous vehicle from Daimler’s truck division was tested in the Las Vegas area last May on stretches of Nevada highways subject to severe desert crosswinds. Qualified drivers, including journalists, were given the opportunity to test drive the autonomous vehicle.

Drivers sat behind the wheel in the truck’s cabin and worked the Inspiration’s special Highway Pilot computer program that decides when the driver can turn over control of the vehicle to the computer.

Hands off

The driver set the computer when  prompted. This is similar to setting cruise control, however the driver does not have to hold the wheel to direct the truck. The engine shifts automatically and keeps the vehicle on the road even in windy conditions.

Drivers immediately commented on the strangeness of not having control of the wheel while the truck moved down the road. However, everyone commented on how well the truck handled in the crosswinds that can make driving difficult. Steve Bouchard, a Canadian journalist who writes for TodaysTrucking.com, explained, “The vehicle stays right between the marking lines, staying 3.5 seconds behind any other vehicle, exactly at the speed you programmed.”

The Highway Pilot system automatically monitors the road with a radar system and special stereo camera. Computer technology keeps the truck within its lane and manages the speed in keeping with road conditions. It uses the collision warning system technology similar to the system found in newer automobiles.

Safety

The computerized system applies the brakes when necessary and adjusts the steering. This is an innovative safety system for most trucks. The Inspiration Truck can be safely driven in most weather conditions, a major advantage for short and long-haul drivers.

The autonomous Freightliner Inspiration Truck will never replace a driver anymore than an airplane automatic landing system can replace a pilot. The new technology will make driving trucks of all sizes easier when drivers learn the new Highway Pilot system.

Diesel mechanics will become familiar with the way the new computer system is integrated into the truck’s engine. The autonomous truck is the latest use of technology to improve truck driving safety.