The world’s first autonomous truck approved for use on public roads has been given the thumbs-up by North American commercial vehicle journalists after a series of test drives in Nevada.
Freightliner revealed the Inspiration truck with a dazzling presentation projected onto the wall of the Hoover Dam in May, and the company promised media representatives they would soon be able to get behind the wheel.
The evaluation was held on public roads near Las Vegas amid windy weather, which actually highlighted the benefits of letting the Inspiration truck take over from the driver.
When the Inspiration’s complex Highway Pilot computer determined its various detection systems were ready for autonomous operation, the driver was able to hand over control.
Here is how Jack Roberts from US-based publication CCJdigital.com described letting a heavy duty truck drive itself.
“The first time you do so, it’s a decidedly strange feeling,” Roberts said. “Your hands hover over the wheel for a few seconds waiting to grab it if something goes wrong. Except nothing goes wrong.”
Canadian journalist James Menzies from TruckNews.com said the Highway Pilot system worked flawlessly in tough conditions.
“It was a perfect day to demonstrate its benefits, because the gusting crosswinds we were driving through can make driving tiring,” Menzies said. “Highway Pilot took control and was able to handle the wind while I sat with my hands in my lap.”
Menzies said it was a great example of the benefits the autonomous mode can bring.
“Sometimes you don’t even realise how busy you are when driving in these conditions, but sitting back and watching the steering wheel movements really emphasised the point.”
Highway Pilot uses a complex stereo camera and radar systems with lane-keeping and collision-prevention functions. It regulates the speed, applies the brakes and steers.
This combination of systems creates an autonomous vehicle that can operate safely under a wide range of driving conditions – the truck automatically complies with posted speed limits, regulates the distance from the vehicle ahead or uses the stop-and-go function during rush hour.
Despite its obvious capabilities, the Freightliner Inspiration is not designed to replace drivers and the concept demonstrator driven in Nevada still requires a driver to operate the truck between the depot and the highway and to carry out manoeuvres such as lane changes.