Autonomous trucking: Achieving safe deployment of Level 4 systems

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Why the development and deployment of self-driving trucks and services is a marathon, not a sprint. With Daimler Truck’s CTO of the Autonomous Technology Group

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the USA has seen the tonnage of goods shipped by trucks increase by 56% over the past decade. This number is expected to almost double in the next two-and-a-half decades. Additionally, the industry is facing an increasing truck driver shortage. These developments contribute to a growing need for safe, reliable, cost-effective trucking solutions.  

As the inventor of the truck, Daimler Truck revolutionized the transportation of goods 125 years ago. It is now pushing the development of autonomous trucks (SAE Level 4). Developing and releasing an autonomous truck requires a paradigm shift. Basically, the truck has to be reinvented. 

Daimler Truck does have expertise in the development of automated assistance systems. Back in 2014, the company presented the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025, the world’s first automated truck. In 2015, the Freightliner Inspiration Truck received road approval in Nevada as the first ever automated commercial vehicle. Today, Daimler Truck offers partially automated driving functions (Level 2) based on highly sophisticated radar and camera systems in the firm’s three main markets, as Active Drive Assist in the Mercedes-Benz Actros and the Fuso Super Great, and as Detroit Assurance 5.0 with active lane assist
in the Freightliner Cascadia. 

Next, the company is pushing the development of autonomous trucks (SAE Level 4). We decided to skip the intermediate step with Level 3 as it wouldn’t pay off for our logistics customers who focus on total cost of ownership. Our mission is to safely deploy autonomous trucks with redundant SAE Level 4 systems. 

It is our ambition to bring safe, autonomous Level 4, long-haul trucks into production. To achieve this, we follow our dual-track strategy working together with two strong autonomous technology partners: Waymo and Torc Robotics, which both offer multiple routes to commercialization. No different than offering proprietary or third-party powertrain solutions, this approach provides customers with the power of choice of the industry’s best autonomous driving solutions based on one truck platform. 

Under Daimler Truck’s partnership with Waymo, two industry titans that share the common goal of improving road safety and efficiency for fleet customers have joined forces. Working in partnership, we are on track to deliver an autonomous Freightliner Cascadia truck, equipped with Waymo Driver, to customers in the USA in the coming years. We have already delivered the first batch of chassis to the team at Waymo for them to integrate their autonomous system.  

In 2019, Daimler Truck and Torc Robotics formed the first strategic alliance, bringing together an autonomous vehicle technology pioneer and a truck manufacturer, when Daimler Truck acquired a majority stake in Torc Robotics. Torc has 15 years of experience in commercializing self-driving technology in heavy-duty, safety-critical applications. Moreover, Torc’s Asimov autonomous driving system has been tested on public roads including a cross-country journey. 

Today, Torc operates as an independent subsidiary of Daimler Truck and serves as the lead for autonomous system development, innovation and testing. It works closely with the development teams at Daimler Truck. The partnership has enabled both teams to move faster on developing Level 4 trucks, providing Daimler Truck’s engineers with insights on how the technology will affect truck design, and providing Torc with data and perspective on what technology will work best for the trucking industry. During the pandemic downtime, we continued testing by focusing on robust simulation. Today we are testing on public roads in Virginia, New Mexico and Texas, and are gaining valuable data from real miles. The company has also established a new testing center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

One thing is certain: the logistics industry is facing profound change. Here at Daimler Truck, we aim to
keep the flow of goods and the global economy moving – safely and more efficiently. We have a clear strategy and the right partners at our side

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About Author

In his role as CTO of Daimler Truck’s Autonomous Technology Group, Alex Gern is responsible for leading the safe deployment of the first ever scalable and profitable autonomous truck with redundant SAE Level 4 systems. Having started his career within Mercedes-Benz’s research and technology group in 1998, he later built up the OEM’s autonomous driving department in California. In 2018, Gern joined Daimler Truck as technical project lead for autonomous trucks

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