Posted on 10/29/21

Anatomy Of Autonomy Profile Of A Self Driving Truck

Anatomy Of Autonomy Profile Of A Self Driving Truck

Two weeks ago, a large rig drove around Hoover Dam in Las Vegas. It was surrounded by screaming crowds and flashing lights. This was not a sequel to Steven King’s Maximum Underdrive. Freightliner's electric blue and silver "Inspiration", rolled out in front of a cheering crowd with much fanfare and flourish. The inaugural victory lap of the world's first self-driving Class 8 truck had just been completed.

Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), Freightliner’s parent company, launched this innovative SuperTruck on May 5. The Dam was used as a video screen in the highest light-output projection ever (topping the Guinness World Record), to show the truck's features.

The two American engineering feats were paralleled by the introduction of Inspiration on the Dam. Just like Americans, Inspiration is completely free (a.k.a. licensed) to drive on the country's public highways.

You don't need to be nervous about the 16-ton silver and blue truck speeding down a highway, but it is possible to relax. The autonomous features allow for greater safety and control for both the driver and other road users (700 lbs lighter than an average trailer). Truck autonomy advancements are expected to reduce fuel consumption, congestion and accidents.

Revived for the Challenge

The $115 million "SuperTruck", an initiative by the U.S. Department of Energy to encourage Class 8 truck manufacturers to produce 50 percent more fuel-efficient and heat-efficient tractor-trailers, was launched in 2009. The average fuel economy for Class 8 trucks was 5.8 mpg (loaded and unloaded). This means that every mile of improved fuel economy can save thousands of dollars each year.

The DOE SuperTruck Challenge was answered by four major manufacturers: Cummins Volvo, Navistar, and DTNA. The goals were to reduce miles per gallon, decrease emissions, use alternate power for heating or cooling, create lighter vehicles and be world leaders in advanced vehicle technology.

Freightliner Innovation

In July 2014, Mercedes-Benz, a member of Daimler AG, demonstrated Future Truck 2025, the first autonomous truck. The prototype featured the Highway Pilot system, which is used in Inspiration today. It allows the truck to drive independently at 80 km/h.

The 2015 Mid American Truck Show saw DTNA unveil their DOE SuperTruck prototype. It achieved 12.2 mpg and a 115 percent improvement in freight efficiency. This was far beyond the DOE's expectations.

Five weeks later Freightliner’s Inspiration drove to the Hoover Damn on May 5. This was five weeks after the accident that introduced the world to Freightliner’s Inspiration, the first legal autonomous truck allowed to drive on the nation’s roads.

Move Car, an auto transport company has always sought to innovate in the industry and disrupt the business cycle.

Inspiration SuperTruck

Although Inspiration surpassed DOE's goals, it is still a SuperTruck with DTNA's 12.2 mpg, and a 115 percent increase in freight efficiency. It is a hybrid that has both stored kinetic energy and solar power from the roof panels. AC is entirely powered by the hybrid system. The Inspiration SuperTruck is lightweight, aerodynamic, and made of lightweight materials. It also has a lot more experimental tech than the DOE.

Highway Pilot manages the autopilot for open highways and links together radar and camera technology. This is a modern safety feature. Freightliner's Cascadia Evolution, which inspired the Inspiration, has active cruise control (ACC), and brake assist.

Freightliner's ACC Plus controls the distance and speed from driving to stopping in the Inspiration. Radar scans vehicles in the vicinity and ahead with a range of 828 feet. The range of the camera systems is 328 feet. They can recognize lane markings and communicate with the steering to provide autonomous lane guidance and alerts. The tiny camera includes an electric blue light, which DTNA hopes to eventually replace side-view mirrors and reduce drag.

The autonomous vehicle's Level 3 is Inspiration. Class 4 would be completely self-operating. The system will notify the driver if it encounters an unmanageable situation and switches back to manual mode.

Is it me or the truck?

Al Pearson, the DTNA Engineer of Product Validation, was the driver. However, the self-driving truck made it around the Hoover Dam curve with ease.

Freightliner calls Inspiration the future for trucking but promises that drivers will still be behind the wheel. Many automated features are already available to truckers today, including cruise control and anti-lock brakes. Although autopilot is now common in planes, we still require a pilot.

Richard Howard, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at DTNA, stated that the driver is a crucial part of collaborative vehicle systems. Autonomous driving is only activated on the highway at a specific speed. Autonomous driving maintains legal speed and safe distance and follows road conditions and traffic to slow down or stop the truck. Trucks cannot navigate on regular roads, change lanes or enter or exit highways, or dock by themselves. Trucks cannot interpret (read) and respond to traffic signals or road signs.

From drivers to logistics managers

According to DTNA, autonomous trucking is more likely than not to hinder trucking jobs. If DTNA can show that the auto mode reduces fatigue, regulations regarding shift length and times could be changed. Inspiration's autopilot features improve safety and reduce fatigue on monotonous highway trips. They also optimize time to handle business and dispatch tasks.

The automated system of Inspiration allows the driver to use his feet, hands, and eyes, but not the road. Pearson stated that Inspiration needs an attentive driver. He also said that the same rules, such as no texting or napping, still apply to Inspiration's driver seat.

The automated system allows the driver to control the vehicle from a tablet. However, the driver is still in complete control. Touching the brakes or steering wheel instantly overrides the autopilot. All decisions are made by the driver and they are alerted when to take charge.

The SuperTruck Story

DTNA is not the only manufacturer that produces impressive SuperTruck results.

Peterbilt-Cummins was the first to develop a SuperTruck tractor-trailer that showcased a previously-unimagined 10.7 mpg and 68% in freight efficiency (over 24-hour duty-cycle, 50% improvement on an 11-hour -cycle), in February 2014.

The first SuperTruck milestone was announced just days before President Obama, Environmental Protection Agency and DOT published 2016 goals for fuel-efficiency standards in medium- and large-duty trucks. These standards were set to achieve a 100% increase in fuel economy for cars and trucks by 2025.

According to the White House report Improving Fuel-Efficiency for American Trucks (2014), it stated that all four teams were well on their way towards achieving the expected percentage increase in fuel economy.

Super Future

Not only do Class 8 trucks move 80 percent of U.S. cargo, but they also consume 20 percent of our fuel. The Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that in 2012, there were 33,000 large-truck accidents that resulted in the deaths of 4,000 people. The solution to safer highways is autonomous driving. This makes driving easier for computers, but more dangerous for drivers. It makes sense to prioritize the development of more efficient and sustainable trucks.

Automation Research, as previously mentioned, is a top priority for the Department of Transportation. SuperTruck spans all DOT and DOE subprograms. It covers everything from the development and deployment of V2V and AV communication systems to infrastructure-based solutions.

The success of the original initiative has fueled DOE's 2016 budget to prioritize SuperTruck II. This budget aims for 100 percent efficiency by 2020 (based on the 2009 baseline). We know that Inspiration will inspire even more trucks in the future, as amazing as she is.