By the end of this decade, Daimler Truck wants to have autonomous trucks operational and offer them as standard. The company already sees itself as a leading manufacturer in the development of autonomous trucks with safety-relevant redundant drive systems at SAE Level 4 (L4). At this level, the system takes full control for defined applications and then no longer needs to be monitored by the human in the vehicle. With its independent subsidiary Torc Robotics and partners, the group now intends to massively advance development, initially in the US.
Neither tired nor inattentive, without breaks
“We are working flat out on autonomous truck transportation because everyone can benefit from it,” said Martin Daum, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler Trucks, last week at a state-of-the-art presentation at Daimler’s own test center. the company in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Level 4 autonomous trucks will help improve road safety, as autonomous systems will not tire or lose attention. Also, efficiency in logistics will increase because trucks do not need a break and are therefore more on the move.” road”.
Daum is sure that robotic trucks will help “cope with ever-increasing freight volumes, especially in times when there is a shortage of drivers.” “The virtual driver is the perfect driver,” he was quoted by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). He doesn’t share concerns that too many truckers are becoming superfluous. In the United States, about 6 percent of the total annual cargo volume is “autonomously capable,” he told the newspaper. If the volume now increases by up to 50 percent in the next ten years, but there are already “too few drivers”, then there will be “a good solution” at least for small parts of transport traffic.
According to Daimler Truck, the company’s experts, together with Torc, have made “significant progress in autonomous driving” since the acquisition three years ago. Typical driving scenarios, such as changing lanes, but also demanding traffic situations on motorways, were “intensively tested” during this time. Torc has provided proof that its self-driving software can safely navigate highways.
Humans take over in the “last mile”
Meanwhile, the company, which specializes in robotic vehicles, expanded road test operations and demonstrated autonomous L4 trucks “with expanded capabilities in more complex scenarios.” The vans are equipped with lidar, radar and camera technology. This enables “a driving behavior that is adapted to the respective situation on secondary roads and driveways, as well as when turning at intersections.”
Daimler Truck sees these mechanical skills as essential to the “hub-to-hub” concept it helped develop. In this scenario, driver-driven trucks are assumed to deliver goods in the “first mile” to transfer hubs. These are located near highways that are in the main freight corridors of the US. Under the plan, autonomous L4 trucks take over the trailer and load there, which they then transport independently over long distances. from one center to another.
As soon as the autonomous articulated trucks arrive at the destination transshipment point, people pick up the slack again for the “last mile,” according to the company. “I can’t imagine a 40-ton truck without a driver in city traffic,” Daum explained of ARD’s approach. At the same time, the mixed concept brings “a big improvement” for co-workers: “The driver comes home at night.” No one has to be on the road for ten days at a time.
Europe lacks the “enthusiasm”
According to Daimler Truck, the USA “with its long highways, increasing need for freight transport, large truck fleets and future-oriented regulatory authorities offer an ideal first field of application for the use of this new technology.” In Europe, it still lacks the necessary “enthusiasm”, Daum told FAZ. In addition, a European legal framework is needed, which should be ready by 2030, the manager emphasized about ARD. Then see more. In principle, everything from the US-tested Freightliner New Cascadia also fits in the European Actros. Germany has already legally regulated fully automated driving at level L4.
Daum justifies the rather slow transition in the industry to electric or fuel cell drives by saying that in addition to suitable vehicles such as the E-Actros in Europe, the necessary charging infrastructure is necessary. The wall box in the garage at home is not enough: “So you need at least 300 kilowatts to charge for a whole night, or one megawatt.” There were even fewer hydrogen refueling options. In addition, the battery-powered truck must “be cheaper to operate, including the purchase price, than the conventional one.” It’s not that far yet.
In order to address the next steps and include specific customer requirements at an early stage, Torc is now cooperating with leading logistics companies to execute real use cases. Members of the created Torc Autonomous Advisory Council (TAAC) include Schneider, Covenant Logistics, Penske Truck Leasing, Ryder System, CH Robinson and Baton, as well as Daimler Truck North America as a vehicle manufacturer.