The truck of tomorrow will drive autonomously. A number of assistance and connectivity systems are already in use in Daimler’s trucks today. Combined in the highly intelligent Highway Pilot, they provide an insight into what the future of transport holds in store.
Highway Pilot is a highly intelligent network consisting of assistance and connectivity systems which enables autonomous driving on the highway. It never gets tired and reacts faster than any human. It is also the ideal companion on long journeys on highways.
With the Freightliner Inspiration Truck in Nevada (USA) and a standard Mercedes-Benz Actros in Germany, Daimler Trucks has demonstrated that the Highway Pilot is already advanced enough for autonomous driving on public roads.
A strong team: human and machine
The Highway Pilot works in a similar way to the autopilot of an airplane. As soon as the truck is safely on the highway, the driver can activate the Highway Pilot. In autonomous mode this system adapts the speed of the truck to the traffic flow. In doing so, it automatically observes the legal speed limit, maintains the required distance from the vehicle ahead or uses the stop-and-go function during the rush hour. The Highway Pilot does not initiate autonomous overtaking maneuvers. These remain the prerogative of the driver. The same applies to leaving the highway as well as to changing lanes.
By means of a user interface, the Highway Pilot visually informs the driver about the current status and accepts instructions. The driver can manually deactivate the Highway Pilot and override the system at any time. Similarly, the driver is asked to take over full control of the truck again as soon as the vehicle is no longer able to detect important aspects of its surroundings. This happens in particular when driving through roadworks, in extreme weather conditions or if there are no lane markings.
Knowing exactly where you're going
The truck is always aware of the road ahead and its topography. A three-dimensional map ensures that the truck stays on course at all times when being driven autonomously.
Keeping an eye on the traffic at all times
During the development of the system, the engineers took advantage – among other things – of the existing range of assistance and safety systems which are already in use in many Daimler trucks:
Assistent Systems for Commercial Vehicles
With Lane Keeping Assist, a camera behind the windscreen scans the road ahead. An integrated electronic control unit continuously measures the scanned data. Unless the driver has set the direction indicator while simultaneously altering the position of the accelerator or brake pedal, if the van threatens to cross the side lane marking, the control unit deduces that the driver is unintentionally departing from the current lane and issues an audible warning.
Proximity Control Assist for trucks and autonomous intelligent cruise control for buses ensure that a preselected safe distance from the vehicle in front is constantly maintained. If the vehicle in front reduces its speed or if the truck or bus closes in on a slower vehicle, the assistance system automatically adjusts the speed. The stop-and-go function also takes pressure off the driver: it takes its cue from the vehicle in front and is capable of automatically braking and again picking up speed.
Active Brake Assist 4 ensures additional safety for Daimler trucks. This emergency braking assistant is a systematic further development of the well-proven Active Brake Assist 3. When the system recognizes an obstacle – for example the end of a traffic tailback – it warns the driver both visually and acoustically, and with automatic partial braking. If the driver fails to respond, it autonomously initiates emergency braking. Within its limits, the assistance system can help to prevent rear-end collisions or at least drastically mitigate their consequences. The system also protects those road users who have no crumple zone – because Active Brake Assist 4 now also warns the driver of an impending collision with pedestrians, for example in city traffic.
Not only lane-changes are a challenge when driving a truck. Turning is particularly difficult in dense city traffic. Sideguard Assist supports the driver in precisely these complex situations: If there is a moving object – e.g. a pedestrian or cyclist – on the right side next to the truck, the system gives the driver a visual and acoustic warning. If the sensors detect a stationary obstacle in the tracking pattern of the truck when turning off, e.g. a traffic-light or road sign, a warning is also given. In addition, Sideguard Assist acts as an assistance system when changing lanes to the right, for example at motorway forks.
Vans are especially exposed to gusts of wind, because they present a bigger "target" than a car and are less heavy than a truck. Crosswind Assist from Mercedes-Benz keeps the van in lane by reducing the effect of gusts of wind on the vehicle and counteracting the resulting lane drift. If the system detects a crosswind, it selectively brakes individual wheels on the side facing the wind to help stop the vehicle dangerously drifting out of lane. This function is also installed as a standard part of ESP® in many models of passenger car.
Processing sensory inputs, becoming active
To make all this possible, Highway Pilot constantly detects the situation in the traffic environment by means of various cameras. These recognize everything that stands out against the background: roadways, pedestrians, moving and immobile objects. Furthermore, information from traffic signs is recorded.
The data from all cameras and sensors are forwarded to the vehicle systems and linked to one another. The Highway Pilot can therefore precisely determine the space between the "disruptive objects". On the basis of this data, the system regulates the steering, increases or decreases the truck’s speed.
Highway Pilot makes trucks independent – the system is self-sufficient and not reliant on other vehicles or control centers. However, networking is possible: In the future, autonomous trucks could communicate with one another – for example as part of so-called platooning.
Good for the environment, the people and the wallet
Tests conducted with Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner trucks indicate that autonomous driving can reduce the fuel consumption of trucks by up to five percent. According to a study by Frost & Sullivan, an autonomously driving heavy-duty truck can save an average of around seven percent in fuel on long distances. The figure for regional transport would be about four percent. CO2 emissions can also be reduced as a result.
Furthermore, the more even traffic flows, the less certain vehicle components are subjected to wear, meaning that freight forwarders can expect lower maintenance costs. Through improved vehicle management, transport management or a wide range of app solutions, fleet operators can save money.
Furthermore, autonomous driving reduces the stress on the individual sitting at the steering wheel. Tiring and monotonous long-haul routes which form part of the driver's everyday work and account for a large share of the workload can be used differently: for relaxing or maintaining human relations, but also office work and material planning tasks can be carried out conveniently on the go. Carrying out other activities will significantly change the job profile of a truck driver. This will lead to promotion opportunities. Instead of just driving, a driver could progress to become a transport manager, and the job of a truck driver will gain more facets.