Billing itself as “the global stage for innovation,” it seems appropriate that the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has drawn the attention of several major truck makers. After all, innovation is rampant in the trucking industry and today’s highway tractors are technological marvels.
Martin Daum, head of Daimler Trucks and Buses, noted the average highway tractor has more than 400 sensors on-board and is supported by more than 100 million lines of software code. This year, Daimler hosted more than 100 media from more than 30 countries at a press event in Las Vegas, Nev., during the show.
Key announcements included becoming the first truck maker to produce a Level 2 autonomous truck, to be released later this year. The new Cascadia with Detroit Assurance 5.0 features Level 2 (partial) automation and will be the first Class 8 truck with such capabilities to be put into series production. It brings to the Detroit Assurance suite of active safety systems automated steering for lane keeping. While a driver must still be behind the wheel of the truck, the vehicle will keep itself centered in the lane when the driver fails to do so.
Another shocker was that Daimler announced it will no longer devote research and development dollars to truck platooning, and will instead focus its efforts on automation. In fact, Daum said he now feels Level 4 autonomous trucks (self-driving under certain conditions, with a driver present) will one day be viable, and the company plans to have a prototype on the road somewhere in North America by the end of this year.
All North American truck manufacturers have demonstrated platooning capabilities, and just last month Truck News reported on the first on-road trials held in Canada. The technology looked so promising. But Daimler found through “thousands” of real-world test miles, that traffic interrupted the platoons too frequently and that fuel consumption actually increased as the platoons were broken and reformed.
The end result was that any fuel savings gained while in platoon formation were given up when traffic interacted with the platoon and forced it apart. Meanwhile, Daimler is doubling down on automation and will invest US$600 million in the next several years into developing autonomous driving systems. Daum said this will improve safety, but also productivity. In the future, the company may revisit platooning, but only when it’s possible to operate the following trucks without a driver, which would significantly change the economics of platooning.
It’s going to be fascinating to see how other truck OEMs respond to Daimler’s change of strategy. As the top seller of Class 8 trucks in this market, other OEMs will certainly take notice. Is platooning going to be history before it even got started? Or will it still be pursued by other OEMs and technology providers who are convinced it will provide fleets with a return on investment under the right conditions and have the ability to prove what Daimler could not?
Some visitors to CES may have been surprised to see heavy trucks so prominently featured. But is there any other industry out there where innovation is so widely prevalent, and moving at such speed?
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