Freightliner Inspiration Truck Unveiled at Hoover Dam

Rolf Lockwood

LAS VEGAS, NV – In a spectacular evening presentation at Hoover Dam last night, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) unveiled the Freightliner Inspiration Truck to several hundred international news media, trucking industry analysts, and officials.

The Autonomous Freightliner Inspiration TruckIt’s the first licensed autonomous commercial truck to operate on an open public highway in the United States. Developed by engineers at DTNA with help from Daimler Trucks in Germany, and of course borrowing much from the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck introduced last year, it promises advancements that reduce accidents, improve fuel consumption, cut highway congestion, and minimize greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of the core autonomous vehicle systems in the concept vehicle are already successfully deployed in the current Freightliner Cascadia Evolution.

“Putting the Freightliner Inspiration Truck on the road is an historic day for Daimler Trucks and the North American trucking industry,” said Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, Daimler trucks and buses chief. “Our team has done a marvelous job in bringing this breakthrough technology to the road.”

The Hoover Dam was selected for the unveiling because “it represents America’s ability to dream big and accomplish amazing things,” DTNA said. Built during the Great Depression under harsh conditions, it took fewer than five years to complete. The largest dam of its time, the Hoover Dam still stands as an engineering marvel eight decades later. The Inspiration Truck drove on top of the dam, presenting itself to the world, while the dam face was used as a very large-scale projection surface.

The truck underwent extensive testing before the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles approved it to operate on public roads in the state. Earlier on Tuesday, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval formally granted the licence and the plate, then took part in the ceremonial first drive of the truck in autonomous mode.

The autonomous Mercedes-Benz Future TruckEquipped with the Highway Pilot sensors and computer hardware used on the German Future Truck, with some modifications, the newest Freightliner is based on a series-production Cascadia Evolution.

The Highway Pilot links together a sophisticated set of camera technology and radar systems with lane stability, collision avoidance, speed control, braking, steering, and other monitoring systems. This combination creates an autonomous vehicle operating system that can perform safely under a range of highway driving conditions. So far, two trucks with this equipment exist.

The Inspiration Truck… is not a driverless truck, said Richard Howard, DTNA’s senior vice president, sales and marketing.

“The driver is a key part of a collaborative vehicle system,” he said. “With the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, drivers can optimize their time on the road while also handling other important logistical tasks, from scheduling to routing. The autonomous vehicle technology not only contributes to improved safety and efficiency, but allows for improved communication through connectivity and integration.”

The truck operates on highways at what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines as Level 3 of autonomous vehicle capabilities, enabling the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions. The autonomous system is responsible for maintaining legal speed, staying in the selected lane, keeping a safe braking distance from other vehicles, and slowing or stopping the vehicle based on traffic and road conditions. The vehicle monitors changes in conditions that require transition back to driver control when necessary in highway settings. The driver is in control of the vehicle for exiting the highway, on local roads, and in docking.

Stay tuned for more on this story following technology presentations and ride-and-drive opportunities later today.

Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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