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A Truck-Sized Robot That Can Drive Itself

Google has had its hands in many different projects recently, including driverless smart cars that you may have seen videos for. Scientists and engineers have been testing these cars all over the west coast, making the case for every car in the feature to have driverless technology. However, the most practical application for this technology isn’t for cars; it’s for trucks.

Daimler Trucks North America, an automotive engineering and manufacturing company, has been given the first ever license for an autonomous big-rig truck on Nevada state roads. It’s called the Freightliner Inspiration Truck and is essentially a truck-sized computer on wheels. Someone tell Optimus Prime that he’s got company!

According to the BBC, while self-driving cars tend to steal the headlines, the autonomous vehicles most of us are likely to interact with first are going to be trucks. The giant big rigs that haul almost everything we buy would be much safer if drivers didn’t get fatigued on long trips and far more efficient if they could convoy together. By designing a truck with a robotic brain, shipping companies could cut out a lot of the risk involved with transporting goods across the country.

That being said, Daimler assures us that a driver needs to remain behind the wheel at all times (no one wants to see a 40 ton vehicle moving at highway speeds with no driver in their rearview mirror!). But the system is so sophisticated that the driver can take their eyes off the road during the drive, weather and roadwork permitting.

“The system is called ‘Highway Pilot’, so this is on freeways and highways at this point. We don’t have it for the inner city,” says Steve Nadig, chief engineer at Daimler Trucks North America. He says there is some monitoring work needed that will keep the driver in his seat, but that his workload will be light enough to allow him to do other things. The driver must take back control for certain situations, like when the exit ramp is approaching.

But other than that, the drive is totally autonomous, which is great news for the driver. “Right now, the driver spends 10 hours behind the wheel of the vehicle, and I can tell you from personal experience, that’s very fatiguing,” says Nadig. “In order to relieve him of some of his duties, we think the driver will be more fit, focus on some of his logistics work… and give him more rest in the bunk than he’s had in the past.”

And that’s what automation is all about: relieving some of the pressure off of workers without relieving them of their jobs entirely. If you can turn a giant computer into a truck so that the drivers can get a little more shut eye than they’re used to but still maintain efficiency, why wouldn’t you try it in today’s world? The future is ours for the taking!

Photo credit: BBC


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