Mercedes-Benz has made a serious bid to revolutionise the trucking industry with a prototype vehicle that drives on its own.
The Future Truck 2025 promises autonomous driving within the next decade, in the hope it will reduce the number of highway accidents involving trucks and other larger vehicles.
Mercedes claims that its "Highway Pilot" automated system will provide a much safer alternative to a human driver.
"It never gets tired. It's always 100 per cent and sharp. It's never angry; it's never distracted," said Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, the Daimler board member for trucks and buses. "
Self-driving vehicles are generally better suited to motorway driving than navigating cities where the increased number of pedestrians, corners and variable speed limits prove more of a challenge for autonomous systems.
The Highway Pilot combines a number of different technologies, including sensors monitoring the truck's surroundings, in order to maintain lane position and speed. The most notable addition to the system, however, is the vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology connecting the truck to other vehicles on the road. This allows the truck to detect stopped vehicles up ahead or move aside for emergency services, for example.
Despite these technological advances, the driver is not completely removed from the Future Truck system. In this scenario he, or she, becomes a "transport manager" ensuring that the truck gets to the motorway safely. Then once the truck's speed reaches 50 mph the Highway Pilot activates, allowing the driver to relax.
If the vehicle needs to leave the highway or encounters any other difficulties a visual alert, followed by an alarm, signals that the driver must return to the wheel. If this does not occur, the truck is capable of bringing itself to a controlled emergency stop.
Unfortunately for any current truck drivers wishing they had more spare time on the job, the Future Truck 2025 is just a prototype. However, despite the technological and regulatory obstacles that need to be overcome, Mercedes believes its autonomous truck will be on the road in ten years' time.