At CES 2019, Daimler announced that its Freightliner Cascadia Class-8 semi-truck will add semi-autonomous capabilities, including automatic pre-collision braking. Level 2 means that a driver must be aware at all times, with hands on the wheel, but advanced driver assistance systems are present to provide some help.
As part of what the company calls Detroit Assurance 5.0 safety suite, the trucks will come standard with adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability. The Cascadia had already been equipped with adaptive cruise, but now the technology can bring the truck to a complete stop and pause for two seconds before starting up again behind a lead vehicle. If the lead vehicle is stopped for more than two seconds, a simple tap on the throttle or flick of the steering-wheel-mounted resume button is all it takes to re-engage the system.
Also standard are automatic high beams and windshield wipers, as well as traffic sign recognition. However, it's the truck's active brake assist that's the most impressive. The camera- and radar-based system can detect both moving pedestrians and cyclists as well as stationary vehicles and objects. If the driver doesn't react, the system automatically applies the brakes.
Riding shotgun during a demonstration, the truck, traveling at 35 miles per hour, slammed on the brakes and stopped short of a car-shaped barrier. It was a panic-inducing moment for me from the right seat, but the truck detected the object and stopped with a few feet to spare.
Right-side blind-spot monitoring is optional with Detroit Assurance 5.0. Previously the system only covered the cab, but the new technology can monitor the entire length of the trailer, too. There's a visual warning when there is an object in the truck's blind spot, and the truck adds a rather loud audible warning if the driver tries to change lanes.
A lane-centering technology is also optional, as is lane-keep assist. If the truck drifts out of its lane, a gentle steering assist brings it back in line without upsetting the trailer. Again, riding right-seat during a demo, the technology brought the truck back into the lane with a very delicate steering movement.
The final option is a driver-facing camera, which can be used to detect fatigue and can also help during training exercises.
Daimler also says it is abandoning the idea of "platooning" two trucks together, where one would be electronically synchronized to the other, so the rear truck can draft to save fuel. After testing for thousands of miles on public roads, Daimler found that the trucks often got split up and it took more fuel to catch up than platooning was ultimately saving.
Daimler is investing half a billion Euros into automated technology for its trucks. The company says it plans to skip the Level 3 conditional automation phase (where a human needs to be ready to take over) and jump right to Level 4, high automation, in the next ten years. These trucks would be capable of completing an entire trip without human intervention, though they would likely be limited only to highway driving.
With our growing addiction to getting goodies delivered via Amazon Prime, we are only going to see more trucks on the road in the future. It makes sense to bring the same advanced driver's aids to the trucking industry that we have enjoyed in our commuter cars for years. Daimler expects to have the Level 2 Cascadia trucks on the road by July of this year.