Daimler Trucks has just announced the U.S.’ first autonomous truck, the Freightliner Inspiration. The truck has been granted a license for road use in Nevada, allowing Daimler to further test the truck’s systems and abilities to self-drive along the highway.

This isn’t Daimler’s first autonomous truck, however. 2014 Saw the automaker demonstrate the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 as it drove along the A14 autobahn near Magdeburg, Germany. It’s technology from that truck that has crossed the Atlantic – and through some rigorous recalibration for U.S. roads – and into the Freightliner Inspiration. It’s called Highway Pilot.

Daimler says the autonomous truck is designed to help ease the stress on long-haul drivers, as well as reduce traffic congestion and improve the truck’s overall fuel efficiency thanks to the computer-controlled driving. The company makes it clear the truck isn’t a replacement for drivers, saying the self-driving aspect is relegated to highway use and the driver is needed for rural and urban roads.

In fact, Daimler sees the driver’s roll actually becoming more important. During highway sprints, drivers can attend to other tasks, or even become “transport managers” – making the trucking career more attractive.

So how does the Freightliner Inspiration work? Continue reading for all the details.

Continue reading for the whole story.

  • Year:
    2015
  • Make:
  • Engine:
    inline-6(Est.)
  • Transmission:
    12-speed automated manual (Est.)
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    505 (Est.)
  • Torque @ RPM:
    1750 (Est.)
  • Energy:
    turbodiesel
  • Displacement:
    14.8 L (Est.)
  • 0-60 time:
    15.0 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    110 mph (Est.)
  • Price:
    190000 (Est.)
  • car segment:
  • body style:

The Technology

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It’s on the outside that the majority of the technology can be seen. Within the gap between the bumper and the grille lies a radar unit. This radar monitors the road ahead with two sets of sensors: one long-range and one short-range. The long-range sensor monitors traffics as far out as 820 feet in a narrow, 18-degreen field of view while the close-range sensor monitors 230 feet ahead of the truck in a wider, 130-degree field of view. The system constitutes the Adaptive Cruise Control portion of the autonomous system. This radar system is very similar to one found in the standard production Freightliner Cascadia Evolution.

Monitoring the road is stereo camera mounted behind the windshield. The camera monitors the 328 feet that’s ahead of the truck, reading speed limit signs, pavement markings, and communicating with the truck’s steering to keep it within the traffic lane. Put together, the Highway Pilot system uses its radar Adaptive Cruise Control and stereo camera to autonomously drive the truck.

"However, the driver is still in charge of the system"

However, the driver is still in charge of the system. Once the truck is safely on the highway, the system alerts the driver that the Highway Pilot is available. Once engaged, the system keeps up with traffic, maintains a safe following distance, obeys traffic laws, and maintains its lane. Passing, driving in bad weather, and through a construction zone must be handled by the driver. Thick traffic on the highway such as stop-and-go situations, are however, handled by the Highway Pilot system.

Yet another aspect of the Highway Pilot system is what Daimler calls “Platooning.” If two trucks are traveling down the highway together, the trucks will communicate with each other, allowing the first truck to alert and automatically apply brakes to both trucks if needed. What’s more, the second truck will automatically follow the lead truck at a certain distance, creating a aerodynamic streamlining effect and improving fuel mileage on both trucks. It’s basically drafting like in NASCAR. Check out the video below.


Exterior

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"Perhaps the coolest aspect of the truck’s outward design is its lights."

The Freightliner Inspiration puts the Semi Truck’s looks on steroids. Its sleek design help cut wind resistance while adding plenty of forward thinking design details. Its slanted front end features a low-riding bumper, narrow grille openings, and integrated headlights. Behind the hood lies a more traditional cab from the Freightliner Cascadia Evolution. Down low, Daimler added long skirts over the fuel tanks and rear wheels in an effort to further reduce aerodynamic drag.

Perhaps the coolest aspect of the truck’s outward design is its lights. During autonomous driving, the LEDs on the license plate, side indicators, and between the grille slats glow blue. During conventional driving, they glow white and yellow.

Interior

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"The Inspiration features a fully digital gauge cluster"

Inside the Freightliner Inspiration, things look like a swanky RV more than a commercial truck. Hardwood planks line the floor while white leather with French stitching lines much of the space including the seats, dashboard, and rear sleeping quarters. The roomy cabin offers plenty of storage space and room to get comfortable between hauls.

Behind the wheel, the Inspiration features a fully digital gauge cluster. The display changes both appearance and color when the Highway Pilot mode is active, letting the driver monitor the ride. The digital experience continues with large virtual mirror displays attached the A-pillars. The screens show multiple camera angles from around the truck. Also at the driver’s fingertips is a tablet PC that detaches from the dashboard.

Drivetrain

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"The engine comes in various tunes, but can make up to 505 horsepower and 1,750 pound-feet of torque"

Though Daimler makes no reference to the Freightliner Inspiration’s powerplant, the truck is based off the standard Freightliner Cascadia Evolution. Under its hood lies a Detroit Diesel DD15, inline six-cylinder turbodiesel that displaces a massive 14.8 liters. The engine comes in various tunes, but can make up to 505 horsepower and 1,750 pound-feet of torque. The engine uses Mercedes’ BlueTec aftertreatment system to keep exhaust emissions down. A Jake brake helps bring things to a relatively quick stop.

Power is routed through the optional Detroit DT12 Automated Manual Transmission that features 12 forward speeds. The transmission features the traditional inner workings of a manual transmission, but its clutch and shift lever are computer controlled to promote easy driving and increased efficiency. The tranny also includes Skip Shift, which allows the transmission to skip gears when the extra torque isn’t needed, along with eCoast, a function that disengages the transmission during coasting that is designed to save fuel.

Prices

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Daimler hasn’t announced pricing on the Inspiration truck, but that doesn’t stop us from speculating. The Cascadia Evolution on which the Inspriation is based has a MSRP ranging in the $130,000 to $160,000 neighborhood. Expect the price to have a nice $30,000 mark-up for the Highway Pilot system. That’s still just a guess, however.

Competition

Daimler SuperTruck

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There’s not too many trucks out there competing in the autonomous category, so the Daimler SuperTruck concept is a bit of a stretch as a competitor. The SuperTruck, developed, obviously, by the same company as the Inspiration, centers more on fuel efficiency than self-driving. The truck uses tons of large and small changes to inch its mpg rating further up the charts. Most recently, the SuperTruck concept averaged 12.2 mpg over a 312-mile test loop on the open interstate.
Read our full review here

Conclusion

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The Freightliner Inspiration seems like an honest and legitimate step in the direction of an autonomous truck. The Highway Pilot system has already proven itself over thousands of miles of testing with many hundreds of thousands to come. It will be interesting to see how this technology develops and is integrated into the trucking business.

It’s also likely the Inspiration truck will live up to its name – sparking other truck makers to explore self-driving systems of their own. Perhaps we’re not too far out from seeing a huge shake-up in the trucking industry.

  • Leave it
    • Likely very expensive
    • Still in its infancy

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Press Release

The Freightliner Inspiration Truck with Highway Pilot system is the world’s first autonomous truck to be granted a license for road use in the State of Nevada. In July last year Daimler Trucks provided the world’s first demonstration of an autonomous truck in action when the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 drove along a cordoned-off section of the A14 autobahn near Magdeburg. The Inspiration Truck is now the next milestone on the road to series production of the Highway Pilot system. The development engineers of Daimler Trucks transfered the system to the US brand Freightliner and modified it for use on American highways. The result: the State of Nevada certified no less than two Freightliner Inspiration Trucks for regular operations on public roads.

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Highway Pilot in operation on American roads
With the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, Daimler Trucks has once more succeeded in implementing the latest innovations across all business units and brands. The Freightliner Inspiration Truck is based on the series-produced US Freightliner Cascadia model, but with the addition of the Highway Pilot technology. The latter comprises a front radar and a stereo camera plus tried and tested assistance systems such as the Adaptive Cruise Control, as seen in the standard Freightliner Cascadia models and the Mercedes-Benz Actros. For licensing on public roads in Nevada, the technology was further developed and the excellent interaction of compo-nents extensively tested. As part of the truck´s so-called Marathon Run, the Freightliner Inspiration Truck covered over 10,000 miles (over 16,000 kilometers) on a test circuit in Papenburg, Germany.
Despite the common technologies, the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck as well as the standard vehicles of both brands are independent vehicle concepts which are adapted to the appropriate market and set of demands.

How the Freightliner Inspiration Truck works
As soon as the Freightliner Inspiration Truck is safely on the highway, the driver can activate the Highway Pilot system. The driver receives a visual prompt in the instrument cluster to activate the "Highway Pilot." The vehicle switches to autonomous mode and adapts to the speed of traffic. The driver receives a confirmation message in the instrument cluster, "Highway Pilot active."

The Highway Pilot system 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.

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The Highway Pilot system does not initiate autonomous passing maneuvers. These have to be executed by the driver. The same is true for leaving the highway and changing lanes. Via the user interface the Highway Pilot keeps the driver visually informed about its current status and accepts instructions. The driver can deactivate the Highway Pilot manually and is able to override the system at any time. If the vehicle is no longer able to process crucial aspects of its environment, e.g. due to road construction or bad weather, the driver is prompted to retake control. In addition to a visual prompt in the instrument cluster there is also a subsequent audible notifica­tion.

The technology of the Inspiration Truck
A radar unit centered in the front bumper of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck monitors the road at close and long range. The long-range sensor goes out to about 820 feet (250 meters) at an aperture angle of 18 degrees and detects vehicles in a long and narrow area. The short-range sensor goes out to about 230 feet (70 meters) at an aperture angle of 130 degrees and detects vehicles in a wider area that could merge into the lane in front of the truck. The front radar unit forms the basis for the Adaptive Cruise Control system and the Active Brake Assist system, which are already famil­iar from the Mercedes-Benz Actros and the Detroit Assurance™ series of safety systems in the series production model of the Freightliner Cascadia Evolution.

The area in front of the truck is also monitored by a stereo camera mounted above the dashboard on the inside of the windshield. The camera has a range of about 100 meters (328 feet) and aperture angles of 45 degrees horizontally and 27 degrees vertically. The camera recognizes pavement markings and communicates with the steering gear of the Highway Pilot system to keep the truck in its lane autonomously.
The Adaptive Cruise Control system of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck uses the same hardware and software as the series production variants of the Mercedes-Benz Actros and Freightliner Cascadia Evolution. The system receives the same input signals within the identical range of values and comprises the same functions and safety features. The use of the standard system ensures that the acceleration and braking maneuvers controlled by the Highway Pilot system are always within the limits of the production vehicle. The active power steering system uses the same hardware as the production vehicles, however, the software has been modified. The system offers the same functions and safety features as the system in the series production vehicle.

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The steering gear installed in the Freightliner Inspiration Truck has already been proven on the road in Mercedes-Benz trucks since 2011. The camera of the Lane Keeping Assist system has already completed more than 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers) of testing and has been used in all Mercedes-Benz Advanced Engineering projects since 2008. Testing of the front radar unit also began in 2008 and since then it has successfully completed more than 2 million miles (3 million kilometers) in series production and in tests at Mercedes-Benz Cars and Daimler Trucks.

Design
The extraordinary exterior of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck is dominated by the hood design, which overlaps the usual radiator grille. The hood can be pushed forward and tilted for opening. The door skins are shaped to perfectly blend with the lines of the front end. The side panels were re­designed to form a single unit with the hood and the wheel arches. The wheel arches themselves have been optimized aerodynamically and have a dynamic design.

The exterior lighting of the Inspiration Truck is a true eye-catcher and complete­ly new: the license plate, indicators and the radiator grille shine blue as soon as the vehicle is in autonomous mode, and white and yellow while in standard operation. The unusual headlamps continue the design idiom of the hood.
A special feature in the interior are the bench seats, which were installed specifically for the driving event of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck premiere. In addition, halogen lighting in the interior creates a pleasant, cozy atmosphere.

Leadership role in autonomous driving
After the Cascadia Evolution Truck and the SuperTruck, the Inspiration Truck represents the third demonstration of the consistent way in which the Freightliner Trucks technology strategy has developed in the USA. As a global commercial vehicle manufacturer Daimler is demonstrating how in­telligent technologies can be rolled out across Group brands within the shortest time frame. Daimler Trucks’ worldwide platform strategy in particular allows economies of scale to be made.
A look at the technical systems that will be required for autonomous driving in the future and a comparison with the components in use in today’s passen­ger cars and commercial vehicles show that Daimler – with its Mercedes-Benz, Freightliner Trucks, Detroit Diesel and Fuso brands – is al­ready in a leading position today. No other company has the combined power from the commercial vehicles and passenger cars sectors in this field. In doing so, the Group secures comprehensive know-how to optimally develop autonomous vehicles for highway traffic. In the field of commercial vehicles, the Highway Pilot system is the only one in the world to feature the kind of sensor and camera technology that makes operation of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck possible – from initial acceleration to the speed limit for trucks. With this, Freightliner Trucks presents the most inno­vative product with the highest degree of automation for the USA.

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Truckers and the autonomous vehicle
In terms of on-highway commercial trucks, it is incorrect to refer to a ve­hicle in autonomous mode as a driverless truck. Drivers remain the boss in their vehicle because the technology developed as part of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck requires the presence of a qualified truck driver with valid commercial driver’s license in the cab and on the gauges. The driver is an important part of the system and must remain in control of the truck in certain traffic situations on the highway and on country roads, in city traffic and when hooking up a trailer or making deliveries.

Autonomous driving relieves drivers from tiring and often monotonous long-distance routes, which today represents a major part of their workload. At the same time, drivers gain time for other tasks and for communicating with their environment. It is conceivable that drivers will take over tasks that today are the domain of the dispatcher or that benefit social contact. Owner-operators in particular can get their office work done conveniently while on the road.

Taking on other tasks will significantly change the trucker job. This will create career opportunities for drivers to become transport managers. The trucker job will become more attractive – autonomous driving is therefore a clear response to the existing driver shortage. Autonomous driving will fuse truck and driver into a team more than ever, and into a meaningful, effective and highly economical combination of man and machine.

Autonomous trucks offer a host of advantages
The autonomously driving truck will increase fuel efficiency, improve traffic safety and reduce CO2 emissions. Tests by Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner Trucks indicate that autonomous driving will cut fuel consumption by up to five percent. This data was corroborated by a recent Frost & Sullivan study, which found that an autonomously driving heavy-duty truck can achieve a savings potential of up to seven percent on average, while fuel consumption in regional transport would be reduced by four percent. Frost & Sullivan also reached the conclusion that autonomously driving trucks will lower maintenance costs for transport companies, for example, as the result of less wear on the vehicle components due to a more constant flow of traffic.
Because autonomous vehicles will be connected to their environment and other road users to such an extent that they will avoid areas with heavy traffic, they will also be able to contribute to reducing traffic jams on highways. The traffic of the future will flow more smoothly and be more predictable. Traffic systems will become more flexible, and the infrastructure will be utilized better. Transport companies will operate more profitably and more flexibly.

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Traffic on long-distance routes that is predictable for all road users last but not least also means more safety for all parties involved. Assistance systems already regulate the speed today and in an emergency initiate autonomous braking to avoid an accident. Both have been proven effective for years. Autonomous driving represents the perfecting of the technology as the result of the fusion of the assistance systems. Safety regulations such as a safe following distance or speed limits are always complied with correctly. Anticipatory driving, a recurring theme in driver training, is pro­grammed safety and economic efficiency for the Inspiration Truck.
Initial research findings of Daimler Trucks clearly show autonomous driving takes the strain of truck drivers. Daimler Trucks has studied the influence of autonomous driving on the driver’s attentive­ness in the truck cab during the trip. For this purpose, a project team from Daimler Group Research conducted scientific studies of drivers on a closed test circuit.

Each of 16 participants drove a truck with Highway Pilot system and two different conventional trucks for four hours without a break by himself. EEG and ECG measurements were taken during the four-hour drive. Electroencephalography (EEG) is an examination method from neurology that provides a general picture of current brain activity, including the level of attention. An electrocardiogram (ECG) records the electrical activity of the heart and provides information about the driver’s current physical stress. This method made it possible to determine the level of fatigue of the test subjects. Of the participating drivers, 12 had no previous experience with an autonomously driving truck. However, after the drives they stated that they had grown accustomed to the Highway Pilot quickly and confirmed that this system made driving considerably easier.

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The results of the studies show that a driver is more attentive and con­sequently able to perform better if the use of the Highway Pilot system allows him to also do other jobs instead of having to perform monotonous driving-related tasks. With the help of the objective brainwave measurement (EEG), it was possible to prove that drowsiness was reduced by 25 percent when the truck operated in autonomous mode and the test subject per­formed interesting secondary tasks (e.g. on a tablet computer). The drivers were also asked subjective questions about their level of fatigue. These re­sults also indicate that drivers are more alert and more attentive while driving in autonomous mode. In this way, it was possible to prove that the technology in the Freightliner Inspiration Truck leads to drivers who are considerably more concentrated. This not least translates into more safety for all road users.

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