Automotive

Autonomous Freightliner Inspiration truck makes a splash at the Hoover Dam

Autonomous Freightliner Inspir...
The Freightliner Inspiration is an autonomous hauler that has been licensed to operate on public highways in the state of Nevada
The Freightliner Inspiration is an autonomous hauler that has been licensed to operate on public highways in the state of Nevada
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Two Freightliner Inspirations were built
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Two Freightliner Inspirations were built
The Freightliner Inspiration is an autonomous hauler that has been licensed to operate on public highways in the state of Nevada
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The Freightliner Inspiration is an autonomous hauler that has been licensed to operate on public highways in the state of Nevada
Inspiration's forward scanners
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Inspiration's forward scanners
Diagram of the Inspiration's sensors
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Diagram of the Inspiration's sensors
The Freightliner Inspiration is a concept vehicle
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The Freightliner Inspiration is a concept vehicle
The Freightliner Inspiration can keep in designated lanes
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The Freightliner Inspiration can keep in designated lanes
The Freightliner Inspiration dashboard detail
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The Freightliner Inspiration dashboard detail
The Freightliner Inspiration has stereo cameras
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The Freightliner Inspiration has stereo cameras
The Freightliner Inspiration lounge area
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The Freightliner Inspiration lounge area
The Freightliner Inspiration uses video displays instead of mirrors
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The Freightliner Inspiration uses video displays instead of mirrors
The Freightliner Inspiration can maintain distances from other vehicles
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The Freightliner Inspiration can maintain distances from other vehicles
The Freightliner Inspiration front
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The Freightliner Inspiration front
The Freightliner Inspiration was unveiled at Hoover Dam in Nevada
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The Freightliner Inspiration was unveiled at Hoover Dam in Nevada
The Freightliner Inspiration can read road markings
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The Freightliner Inspiration can read road markings
The Freightliner Inspiration showing its new license plate
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The Freightliner Inspiration showing its new license plate
The Freightliner Inspiration is authorized to operate on Nevada public roads
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The Freightliner Inspiration is authorized to operate on Nevada public roads
The Freightliner Inspiration can hand back control to the driver
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The Freightliner Inspiration can hand back control to the driver
The Freightliner Inspiration display
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The Freightliner Inspiration display
The Freightliner Inspiration showing ambient lighting
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The Freightliner Inspiration showing ambient lighting
The Freightliner Inspiration is based on already developed technologies
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The Freightliner Inspiration is based on already developed technologies
The Freightliner Inspiration uses two radar scanners
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The Freightliner Inspiration uses two radar scanners
The Freightliner Inspiration is designed for long hauls
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The Freightliner Inspiration is designed for long hauls
The Freightliner Inspiration control interface
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The Freightliner Inspiration control interface

Self-driving cars might be grabbing all the headlines, but it seems like self-driving trucks might hit the road first. At the Hoover Dam outside of Las Vegas, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) showed off its Freightliner Inspiration Truck, which has been officially licensed to operate on public highways in the state of Nevada. The autonomous hauler allows the driver to hand over full control to the onboard computer under proper traffic and environmental conditions.

Self-driving passenger cars have been long in coming. Part of the reason is that cars are designed to go almost anywhere, from freeways to crowded city streets. Even human drivers have difficulty dealing with everything that a normal trip can throw at them and expecting a computer to do it is about as ambitious as you can get. On the other hand, specialized freight haulers spend most of their time on highways and freeways, so building one that can take over most of the tedious long-haul driving and letting the human do the side streets and backing up to the loading bay seems like a logical trade off.

That seems to be the thinking behind DTNA's design philosophy at the Tuesday evening unveiling ceremony. This was the culmination of a series of events during the day when Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval put a license plate on the Frieghtliner Inspiration, granting it legal status to operate in the state, then climbing aboard for the first drive. Though the Inspiration is billed as self-driving, a human was at the wheel at all times.

Diagram of the Inspiration's sensors
Diagram of the Inspiration's sensors

The Freightliner Inspiration is still only a concept vehicle, and only two have been built so far, but it does give an idea of what the self-driving truck of the future is likely to look like. On the outside, the Inspiration looks like any other tricked-out American semi, right down to the LED ambient lighting in the grille. But the truck boasts a complex suite of sensors and computer hardware that make it a certified Level 3 autonomous vehicle that can operate on public roads in a variety of conditions.

The basic idea behind the Inspiration is for the autonomous system to control the truck when on highways, while the driver deals with exits, local roads, and freight yards. According to DTNA, the Inspiration can take over many of the driving functions, such as staying in a designated lane, keeping station at a safe distance from another vehicle, maintaining a legal speed, braking safely to a halt when needed, and being able to judge when to hand back control to the driver.

This may make the Inspiration sound like a rolling lab, but DTNA says that its systems are based on some of the core autonomous vehicle systems already installed in the series production Freightliner Cascadia Evolution. Its Highway Pilot uses a combination of cameras and radar for lane stability, collision avoidance, speed control, braking, steering, and general road keeping.

Inspiration's forward scanners
Inspiration's forward scanners

Behind the grille is a short-range radar scanning out to 230 ft (70 m) in a 130-degree arc, while a long-range unit scans out to 820 ft (250 m) in an 18-degree arc. These hook into the Active Cruise Control and Active Brake Assist. Behind the front windscreen is a stereo camera that can recognize road markings and operate the steering mechanism.

One advantage of big rigs is that the tractor cabins usually have plenty of room. Many long-haul versions even have sleeping quarters. This gave the designers plenty of scope for fitting in controls and video displays that replace the exterior mirrors. According to DTNA, this reduces blind spots and cuts down wind drag for a 1.5 percent increase in fuel efficiency. In addition, the interface can help drivers with logistics and route planning.

"Freightliner Trucks does more than any other commercial truck manufacturer to integrate the truck, the driver and the business," says Richard Howard, Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing, DTNA. "The Freightliner Inspiration Truck is a case in point because it is not a driverless truck — the driver is a key part of a collaborative vehicle system. With the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, drivers can optimize their time on the road while also handling other important logistical tasks, from scheduling to routing. The autonomous vehicle technology not only contributes to improved safety and efficiency, but allows for improved communication through connectivity and integration."

The video below introduces the Freightliner Inspiration.

Source: Freightliner

Freightliner Inspiration Truck - Infinite Inspiration

14 comments
CesareRenzi
Welp, that was an unfortunate choice of words in the article.
rseifer
This is truly one of the most brain-dead, appalling technological "innovations" of this century. These trucks are on the roads for hours at a time, and it seems to be universally accepted that many of these truckers gobble uppers by the handful in order to stay awake during these extended periods. Imagine if they now become monitors of these so-called autonomous levithans, and they doze off from sheer boredom while this machine rockets along at 75mph. It doesn't take much of a stretch to picture the consequences of a system malfunction while the driver has fallen asleep. And please spare me the blather about hardware which looks at the driver and sounds an alarm if it notices him starting to lose consciousness. There are people who can sleep through an earthquake, and I hope never to encounter one of these guys while he's piloting a 20-ton Freightliner on the same road I might be driving on. Ralph L. Seifer, Long Beach, California
drender
@rseifer Seems that there would be a failsafe mode, maybe pull over to a dead stop, if the autopilot needs to disengage and the driver didn't respond. The same kind of issue would occur due to a medical emergency where the driver cannot respond - a reasonable and less judgmental scenario. In all this could be a much safer system because it doesn't require the driver to be alert for hours at a time. Less fatigue = more attentiveness when needed.
GregCundiff
The amazing network they are speaking of is called freight rail.
mommus
Self-driving cars and trucks are a non-starter The first serious accident involving a privately-owned one will cause an insurance shock the likes of which we've never seen. If you are hit by one, who's to blame? The driver will say it was on automatic, and the vehicle manufacturer will say it's the driver's fault. Can you imagine a company like GM or Toyota suddenly having corporate liability for all accidents involving cars they sell? The only way this will ever take off is if the passenger has no option of direct control over the vehicle
lat1865
How about the "radar for lane stability", the "short range" and long range" radar blasting through 360 degrees of human flesh as this moves down the roadway? Does anyone think this is good for us?
Charles S Roscoe
You shall not pass!
Stephen N Russell
wonder how long this will last until Teamsters strike IE later models need Zero drivers?? Love the idea See Solar Crisis, & trucks marked IXL, drone trucks from 1990s movie
jimfortcollins
oh..good..... now i can have a beer or 2 or 3 since i'm not driving while going down the road
Intellcity
Typically semis (many but not all) are speed limited to 65 MPH which is why you see sometimes see a semi with new tires take a couple of miles to pass one with old tires. Cowboys that go 75 make less money (and get more tickets.) Radar detectors are illegal and tickets are very expensive if you get caught with one. Also radar detectors are detectable. You will probably see more truckers going 60 or less to improve fuel mileage. You just don't pay much attention to them unless you can't get around them. A fully loaded semi weighs 40 tons. Empty, about 16 tons. Boredom can be a problem. Staying awake is generally becoming less of a problem. Log book enforcement is getting better so 18 hour shifts are more rare than they used to be "in the good old days". Equipment failure is always a concern. Even the engine control computer in your car can fail but the occurrence of a driver caused accident is far greater than a computer failure. Going down the road and staying in the lane is one thing but how well will it react to the nutcase that cuts in front and slams on the brakes to try to teach the driver a lesson? (such as for going around the on-ramp too slow) or many other examples I could list. This technology is coming on a lot faster than I thought it would. How long has it been since no vehicle could complete the DARPA autonomous off-road challenge? Not that long ago. This technology will make our roads a lot safer for truckers and when it becomes common in cars it will make roads a lot safer for everyone. Too bad that it will take the fun out of threading the needle.