Daimler unveils its self-driving semi truck

Daimler Truck, a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, has unveiled its first self-driving truck demonstrator, aiming for fully autonomous freight hauling by 2027.

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The demonstrator is an all-electric version of the popular Freightliner Cascadia, dubbed the eCascadia. Equipped with high-powered sensors and a powerful computer, it can “see” its surroundings and navigate autonomously.  Daimler is partnering with Waymo and its Torc subsidiary for the autonomous systems.

The initial goal is to launch these autonomous trucks in the Southwestern US for hub-to-hub freight hauling in 2027. “We’re starting with a vehicle that doesn’t sleep, doesn’t need to stop, and can drive continuously – that’s our targeted use case,” says Joanna Butler, head of Daimler’s autonomous technology group.

Daimler is committed to bringing these vehicles to production, but prioritizes safety. Public opinion of autonomous vehicles has declined due to incidents involving other companies. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” emphasizes Butler.

Daimler has been working on self-driving trucks since 2015, showcasing prototypes like the Freightliner Inspiration Truck. In 2019, they acquired Torc for its self-driving software and partnered with Waymo for fully autonomous semi-trucks.

The demonstrator utilizes Torc’s computer system, lidar sensors from Aeva Technologies, and an array of radar systems. These provide a “rich perception of the environment” for the virtual driver to make informed decisions, says Suman Narayanan, Daimler’s director of autonomous driving engineering.

Safety drivers will remain on board during testing, handling complex scenarios. However, Daimler envisions future designs without traditional controls like steering wheels. “That is a bold vision,” acknowledges Butler.

The demonstrator is electric, but Daimler’s system is agnostic to powertrain.  They may offer hydrogen fuel cell versions in the future.  They are particularly interested in how electric vehicles interact with autonomous driving systems, considering potential impacts on range and towing.

“This is our chance to learn and bring together two emerging technologies,” says Narayanan.  By combining electric and autonomous systems, Daimler hopes to overcome future challenges in freight hauling.