By on May 6, 2015

World Premiere Freightliner Inspiration Truck

Unveiled atop Hoover Dam in Nevada last night, the Freightliner Inspiration is the first commercial truck to receive the state’s autonomous vehicle license plate.

The semi-autonomous Inspiration, a result of Daimler AG’s Highway Pilot technology program, is meant to help reduce stress and fatigue on the highway by taking over driving duties when needed, The Verge reports. Per the company, 90 percent of accidents involving commercial trucks are due to driver error, with one out of eight of those accidents the result of driver fatigue.

As far as autonomy goes, the Inspiration is ranked by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as a Level 3 autonomous vehicle – the same level as Google’s own autonomous cars – allowing the driver to let the truck take the wheel in certain conditions so they can rest while maintaining their schedule. It also only needs the white lines painted on the road to keep it in check, though other features like vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technology would bring more to the table, Daimler’s truck chief Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard noted during the truck’s introduction.

Though Nevada’s roads may see an Inspiration now and again, the truck won’t have much traction in the market until federal regulation clears the way for testing in various conditions – rain, sleet, snow, cold, sun et al – ultimately leading toward sales and an increased presence in many an over-the-road fleet.

[Photo credit: Freightliner]

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27 Comments on “Freightliner Inspiration First Commercial Truck To Receive Nevada Autonomous Vehicle Plate...”

  • avatar

    How many people and companies would be in the liability chain if a loaded semi-bot went bad? And how would one of these handle construction season? This is still Sci-Fi.

    • 0 avatar

      How many people are in the liability chain when there is a loaded semi that “goes bad” today? I suppose you overlook the fact that the Nevada license requires a driver to be behind the wheel at all times ready to take over?

      Of course all the problems aren’t solved. Was there a press release about fleets of these things going out on their own that I missed? People understand that testing and iteration are required for progress, right?

      Why do people get hung up on that issue and overlook the number of big rig accidents that happen now, because of driver error? If you want to believe that the accident rate will *increase*, that’s fine, that’s your opinion. But it’s been suggested time and time again that the #1 cause of accidents is not mechanical, but driver error, usually due to distraction, fatigue, or other factors. That issue goes away.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Here’s an interesting link on autonomous vehicles. It is worth reading. This technology is here to stay and expand much further throughout our lives, as well as save them like you highlighted.

        I will not mention the country where much of this technology came from, but to say the mining industry is involved.

      • 0 avatar

        OK, orenwolf, it’s desirable SciFi.

  • avatar

    Shall we start a pool on Big Truck’s reaction?

    1. denial this is really an autonomous truck?
    2. denial he ever said there wouldn’t be autonomous trucks?
    3. No show?
    4. Other?

  • avatar

    This is a great idea in the same way as autopilot is great for airplanes; it can do the job 98 percent of the time but an operator is still needed behind the wheel 100% of the time to be ready for the 2% when things go wrong.

    Driving a truck is harder work than most people think; this will make the job more appealing, improve fuel economy, and make everybody safer.

    • 0 avatar

      But won’t it be viewed by trucking companies as just a double cost since the driver has to be there anyway? Since the potential for disaster in a ground vehicle hauling primarily inanimate objects is magnitudes lower than for air travel, will those costs be willingly borne?

      • 0 avatar

        I would argue that the reduction in user-error crashes would offset the extra cost. Also, if the truck can drive autonomously part of the time, the driver can be “off the clock” for legal purposes, allowing trucks to drive longer days when a driver is needed.

        • 0 avatar

          The driver must remain available to take over when the autonomous system can’t handle the situation. Therefore, I think it won’t affect hours of service limits. As you said, the real pay off is avoiding crashes due to driver error.

        • 0 avatar

          I doubt they will be off the clock, but in a sensible world the hours would be able to be extended. Not so in the bureautocracy we now have where the only way to reduce a regulation is threaten the responsible bureaucrats with careericide or buy them off.

      • 0 avatar

        No, for many reasons.

        First, it may work as an investment because accidents are expensive and labor could be paid less. Even if not, if you are a bigger firm, you might pay extra because you are betting on the trend and want to be a leader rather than a loser. Failure to adopt can lead to total failure, so you will invest in a pilot project.

      • 0 avatar

        You both make sense.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      Agreed Toad.

      Nice DD logo there.

  • avatar

    Needs moar predator grille.

  • avatar

    If this leads to trucks caravaning in the right lane at precise speeds and intervals with minimal overtaking, I’m all for it.

  • avatar

    What? Autonomous semi? That’s just more expensive electronics to crap out right after warranty. Plus, if no stick shift – no sale!

  • avatar
    daniel g.

    what would be the manufacturer of the system? GM it? Again, the Simpsons were ahead of reality.

  • avatar

    Autonomous trucks on the highway make more sense than cars. They usually travel at night, often in a long line (platoon) of trucks. Freightliner Inspiration can maintain a set distance from each other (drafting) to improve fuel economy.

    Dealing with inclement conditions (snow,ice,rain)remains a challenge.

    You can just imagine the increased texting behind the wheel, the advent of bathrooms in sleepers, and who knows what else :-)

  • avatar

    Not a surprise at all. Autonomous vehicle will first start with long boring interstate with real money saving and low[er] risk than crowded urban road. I’m more surprised that it is not started more conservatively as a trailer-mode vehicle that let a team of 3 semi going on nonstop shift around the clock, taking turn as the lead vehicle’s driver.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    That photo is taken on the same road that the Las Vegas Speedway is on, actually a few miles past the speedway.

    There is a significant amount of zoom in the photo, look at the Vegas Skyline.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    This technology should reduce the cost of transport of goods. This is great.

    I do know here in Australia many trucks have two drivers. One is sleeping whilst the other drives.

    This should allow for the driver to rest and increase the length of his working day. They still get paid the same, but cover many more miles.

  • avatar

    Still a body on board. Maybe they could pay it less. Future ride-along for retirees needing income supplement?

    Thought the YouTube glossy corporate hype. Much like my place.

  • avatar

    My response relates to driver safety.

    Large trucks, though they look rugged, are pretty flimsy in terms of driver protection. These vehicles are top heavy and an upset at any speed often means a driver fatality. Have a look at any semi truck that catches fire. Most of the cab just disappears and the highest thing left is the frame of the driver’s seat.

    While probably a lot could be done to protect the drivers, it seems like nothing beyond seatbelts has been done. The industry doesn’t seem to value drivers’ lives enough to put the money into safety structures and systems. The physics involved makes adequate protection a challenge. And the drivers themselves would rather spend money on lights and chrome than safety systems.

    Preventing crashes to begin with seems like the best approach, and, setting aside the “thar be dragons” worries about them running amok, these systems can only help prevent crashes and therefore save lives.

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