Huge, Hulking, Fuel Saving, Street Legal Autonomous Truck Hits The Highway

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No, it’s not driverless, so relax. Daimler Trucks North America is billing its brand new Freightliner Inspiration Truck as the first “autonomous” truck to burn rubber on an open public highway in the US, but look closely at the beauty shot below and you’ll see a driver at the wheel. The idea is to save fuel while enhancing safety and labor efficiency, not to sic convoys of driverless robotic semis on an unsuspecting public.

On the other hand, conspiracy theorists — and certain public officials who should know better — are having a field day with the Defense Department’s planned multi-state Jade Helm training exercise, which includes Nevada, and the new autonomous truck just debuted yesterday in Nevada, so what the heck, go rent Duel on Netflix and start believing that the Army is going to invade the U.S.

Inspiration autonomous truck

Yep, The Army Already Has An Autonomous Truck…

Last year Ford introduced us to an autonomous vehicle research car, and earlier this year we went to the North American Auto Show in Detroit, where we got to see some actual driverless autonomous vehicles in the works, including a dainty open-air campus shuttle, several versions of futuristic sedan-type cars, and even a rather large Army truck that can be hooked up with other trucks to form a driverless Jade Helm convoy hitting speeds of up to 40 miles per hour:

Army autonomous truck

That’s a Lockheed Martin project, btw.

…But Only Daimler Trucks North America Has A Street-Legal Autonomous Truck

So far the Army autonomous truck has been tested at roads within military facilities. The big deal about Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) is that the Freightliner Inspiration Truck is the first to win a license to roll down a public highway. To underscore the engineering achievement, DTNA drove the truck across the Hoover Dam (I can do that in my Hyundai but whatever) yesterday, and it’s booked into the Las Vegas Motor Speedway today.

DTNA has already deployed elements of the new autonomous truck system in its Cascadia Evolution model, and some of these are becoming standard issue in passenger cars. DTNA calls its system the Highway Pilot:

The Highway Pilot links together a sophisticated set of camera technology and radar systems with lane stability, collision avoidance, speed control, braking, steering and other monitoring systems.

So, What Does The Driver Do?

DTNA emphasizes that the system is designed as a collaboration between Highway Pilot and the driver:

With the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, drivers can optimize their time on the road while also handling other important logistical tasks, from scheduling to routing.

We’re thinking that could raise some labor issues that don’t necessarily work in favor of labor, but all else being equal the basic aim is fuel efficiency and safety (emissions reduction is another plus). Once the autonomous truck is on the main road, it keeps to a legal speed, stays in its lane, stays away from the vehicle ahead, and anticipates traffic conditions that require it to alter speed.

Assisting all this is a long-range, 820-foot radar in addition to short-range radars and various cameras:

radar autonomous truck

The driver also takes control when exiting (and presumably, entering) the highway as well as maneuvering in local roads and docking facilities.

Additionally, the driver needs to be alert all the time in case the Highway Pilot suddenly taps him or her on the shoulder to take over while on the highway, should conditions require the human touch.

As for fuel efficiency, DTNA estimates that the connected system, including in-cab video displays that can replace exterior mirrors, can increase fuel efficiency by up to 1.5 percent. That can add up to considerable savings for long-haul trucks even with the current depression in oil prices.

We’re not sure how all this is going to fit in with another Daimler-affiliated project for the U.S., the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025, but it looks like we won’t have to wait until 2025 to find out.

Stay tuned.

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Photo Credit (Army truck): Tina Casey. Freightliner Inspiration Truck photo (cropped) and schematic courtesy of DTNA via freightlinerinspiration.com.


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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3330 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey