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Mercedes tests autonomous Future Truck 2025

Year 2025: Mercedes says taking the human out of the driver's seat saves fuel, money and the environment, while reducing congestion and improving road safety.

Highway Pilot will turn driver into transport manager inside 10 years says Mercedes

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Mercedes-Benz logo8 Jul 2014

By DANIEL GARDNER

MERCEDES-BENZ has successfully tested its first self-driving commercial vehicle after its revolutionary Future Truck 2025 covered a 30km section of the A14 Autobahn in Germany without any driver intervention.

The specially prepared Mercedes Actros truck negotiated the strip of freeway without human intervention thanks to a series of sensors integrated about the prime-mover and semi-trailer, and Mercedes says the Highway Pilot system will be production-ready in 10 years.

A road-closure was necessary for the test to take place but a fleet of other Mercedes vehicles simulated 'normal' driving situation, including stationary vehicles and passing emergency vehicles.

The vehicle's surroundings are constantly monitored by a series of cameras, GPS and long and short-range radar sensors to maintain a constant course at up to 80km/h despite changing conditions and traffic flow.

The German vehicle-builder has been developing and producing environment-monitoring and active safety systems in cars for some time, including a self-driving S-Class, but combining all of the pieces together in a commercial vehicle has added benefits.

Some maneuvers such as overtaking and freeway entry/exit still require manual override, which requires a qualified driver aboard, but under normal cruising conditions the operator is free to carry out other duties.

Tasks that are traditionally handled by fleet office staff would be possible by drivers, and monotonous long periods at the wheel would no longer be necessary, which Mercedes says will make the role more desirable.

The autonomous system can also allow vehicles to travel closer together in streamlined fuel-saving convoys, which use the available road space more efficiently, reducing congestion.

A Predictive Powertrain Control system accesses information about the road ahead and can adapt the transmission to provide optimal efficiency, further boosting range and reducing the environmental impact of emissions.

Emerging vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies are also incorporated into Mercedes' high-tech truck, allowing it to communicate with other vehicles and even roadside equipment.

Acceleration can be carefully controlled, while anticipating changes to traffic conditions long before they are visible to a driver will boost fuel efficiency and increase road safety.

The new technology is also changing the way commercial vehicles look, although while the Future Truck 2025 remains in black and white camouflage we will have to wait to see the true face of a self-driving commercial vehicle.

Interior design is also changing and the Mercedes says the inside of an autonomous truck will look more like an office, focusing on a comfortable desk position where the operator will spend a majority of their time, not at the wheel.

The trailer section is integral to the Future Truck 2025, featuring aerodynamic design and some of the sensors required to maintain its position on the road to completely monitor surroundings.

At the test of new driverless truck, head of Daimler Trucks division Dr Wolfgang Bernhard said that the future of commercial vehicles lies in autonomy.

“The Future Truck 2025 is our response to the major challenges and opportunities associated with road freight transport in the future,” he said.

“The Future Truck 2025 leads to more efficiency and better safety and connectivity. This in turn results in a more sustainable transport system to the benefit of the economy, society and consumers.

“The focus is the connectivity of the truck with its complete environment. That starts with the driver and the hauler and includes the infrastructure and other traffic participants.”

While evolution of commercial applications continues, Mercedes is also developing the technology for private car use where similar advantages may be possible.

Mercedes released details of a self-driving S-Class in September last year, which drove unaided from Mannheim to Pforzheim in Germany, retracing the 100km route driven by Bertha Benz, the wife of the inventor of the automobile, Karl Benz, 125 years ago.

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