The First Autonomous Semi Truck Gets Its Driver’s Licence

Automaker Daimler has revealed the first ever driverless tractor-trailer that is authorized to navigate public roadways. If you are intimidated by the notion of such a massive vehicle barreling down the highway un-manned, have no fear – the trucks still require the presence of a driver to deal with any situation more taxing than freeway cruising. The release of the autonomous Freightliner Inspiration is still notable, however, for providing long-haul truckers with the opportunity for a much more relaxing journey and giving the rest of us a glimpse into the future.

The new Freightliner Inspiration: automaker Daimler reveals a new self-driving tractor-trailer. Image from daimler.com.The new Freightliner Inspiration: automaker Daimler reveals a new self-driving tractor-trailer. Image from daimler.com.

Driverless cars have been emerging steadily over the past few decades as an increasingly acceptable alternative to the current system of transportation. A full network of driverless vehicles will be safer, more efficient, and more environmentally-friendly. The idea of a driverless big-rig is relatively new, though it does make a lot of sense. Long-haul truck driving is an extremely taxing occupation and any stress that can be passed from driver to computer will benefit everyone. This is the idea behind Daimler’s new autonomous truck.

It operates as one might expect: cameras mounted externally monitor lane lines and surrounding traffic to keep the truck headed in the right direction and well-spaced from other vehicles. So far, a driver must still be present and alert to deal with the possibility of traffic disruptions, inclement weather and other unforeseen circumstances as well as to locate correct highway exits and take over driving on surface roads. Essentially, the Freightliner Inspiration possesses what amounts to an extremely advanced cruise control. When faced with a situation beyond its powers of reasoning, the truck emits a beep to alert the driver and will then gradually slow to a stop if no action is taken.

This safety feature – braking when faced with an inactive driver – was likely designed to take into account what seems like the most dangerous aspect of the new technology: the ease with which truck drivers spared the need to steer could fall asleep at the wheel. The profession is already known to be dangerously rigorous when it comes to working long hours and large stretches of highway requiring no input from the Inspiration’s driver sounds like a recipe for naptime. That said, this first prototype truck is only the beginning. Daimler suggests another decade may pass before we begin seeing fleets of these on the road and the technological advancements toward total autonomy in that time span will be significant. As cameras and computer “brains” become increasingly advanced, it seems like the march toward a driverless society is inexorable.