A massive semi-truck loaded with freight barrels down the freeway at 50 miles per hour. There is no driver behind the wheel.
Time to panic?
No—this is Mercedes-Benz’ prototype “Future Truck,” a test bed for trucking technology—including autonomous driving—that the company expects to include in its vehicles by 2025.
Mercedes unveiled the truck in September at the 2014 International Commercial Vehicle (IAA) show in Hannover, Germany.
The truck is an eye-catcher, with an exterior illuminated with LEDs. The lights also replace conventional headlamps, giving the truck a smooth, cut-from-one-piece appearance. Also missing are exterior side mirrors, replaced with small cameras.
The cameras are part of what Mercedes describes as its intelligent “Highway Pilot” system. It incorporates radar sensors to scan the road, allowing the truck to essentially drive itself in highway conditions.
Mercedes admits true autonomous truck driving is still about 10 years away. This new era of smart trucks will require wide-spread adoption of data security standards and protocols, and changes in safety regulations and laws regarding insurance and liability.
Mercedes believes that autonomous trucks will relieve drivers from the stress of tiring, long-distance routes, and will free them up to conduct other tasks. In its press release, Mercedes says:
“Carrying out further activities will significantly change the professional profile of the truck driver. This will in turn give rise to opportunities for advancement from the purely driving role to transport manager. The profession of truck driver will become more attractive—autonomous driving is therefore also a compelling answer to the shortage of drivers.”