Freightliner, a leading automotive manufacturer, unveiled their new automated truck yesterday at the Hoover Dam in Nevada. The governor of Nevada was on site to award the vehicle with an official autonomous vehicle licence plate. The licence is an NHTSA Level 3 licence, meaning the vehicle can drive entirely by itself, but if need be, can be overridden by manual driver control at any time. This is also the same licence class of Google’s autonomous vehicle.
Daimler, the parent company of Freightliner, claims that 90% of crashes involving large freight trucks are due to driver error, and 1/8th of those crashes are due to driver fatigue. After an intensive study, Daimler discovered that when the system is activated, “driver drowsiness decreases by about 25 percent.”
The entire system is controlled by a vast array of sensors, including radar, stereo computer vision, and others. The system is much like the setups we’ve seen from Google and Mercedes, so it will be interesting how these companies decide to advance their systems. The holy grail, of course, is the coveted NHTSA Class 4 licence, which defines that a vehicle can operate safely on its own for extended periods of time without the need for driver input or monitoring. The ability for a driver to sit back, relax, or even get involved into some literature, would be truly terrific stuff, albeit equally scary.
The issue of liability is currently in a grey area when it comes to who is responsible for what if one of these vehicles suddenly fails without a driver at the wheel. Class 3 vehicles are more black and white, but once you start delving into the class 4 vehicles, that’s when the blame starts to get a little weird. These systems will have to become much more polished before it’s a viable alternative to the standard. I don’t see any major trucking companies releasing these vehicles unless they can make them 100% safe since if the system fails, it could potentially be the fault of the manufacturer, and not the driver.
On that same note, at the unveiling yesterday in Nevada, there was no talk of price points and potential commercial availability. It’s safe to assume that the price of one of these units is high, and we won’t be seeing these on the road anytime soon.Source: ArsTechnica