Over the past few years numerous companies have announced that they are working on technology in order to create autonomous (aka driverless) vehicles. However, most of these companies have been mainly focussed on creating driverless car technology instead of looking at ways to make commercial vehicles driverless.
Now, commercial vehicle manufacturer Daimler has announced that they are attempting to create driverless technology not just for light commercial vehicles but also heavy duty trucks. Driverless technology for these types of vehicles has only been somewhat attempted over the years, as due to their size the technology involved in making trucks driverless is considerably more complex. For instance, a number of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) have eight or more gears, meaning that any driverless technology will need to be adapted in order to manage these types of vehicles.
However, Daimler believes that driverless trucks are possible, in fact they have even stated that autonomous trucks and lorries could be on the roads in just over a decade. Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler Trucks, added: “We believe the chances of success are good, because autonomous driving combines the ability to achieve business and technology objectives with the creation of benefits for society and the environment.” Even though Daimler is confident about their technology and the fact that it could reduce emissions and accidents on the road, Bernhard admitted that they are extremely aware of the health and safety issues.
Bernhard also commented on the issues commercial van insurance providers and those in charge of road legislation will face at the prospect of autonomous HGVs. He said: “The truck is on autopilot and, god forbid, something happens . . . who is liable? The responsibilities have to be thought out. How do we as a manufacturer make sure we cannot be blamed for everything that happens out there?” This is a question that all automotive manufacturers working on driverless technology are currently facing, and one that doesn’t seem to have a simple answer.
Daimler’s driverless technology relies on a number of gadgets including cameras, global positioning systems (GPS), radars and various pieces of software. By using this technology, drivers will be able to turn their trucks onto ‘Highway Pilot’ mode, allowing the vehicle to drive at a steady pace along long stretches of roads such as motorways. Daimler has already tested a Mercedes truck on the German Autobahn in order to prove to spectators that the technology can work, and named the vehicle ‘Future Truck 2025’.
Even though Daimler’s technology is admittedly extremely impressive, it does not allow trucks to autonomously change lanes or perform other manoeuvres meaning that they still rely on drivers. Furthermore, in order for the technology to develop in the future it is likely that roads and motorways will need to be adapted in order to support a large number of autonomous vehicles. If anything, this means that Daimler’s autonomous truck technology may advance faster than most countries are ready for.
“The technology is mature,” Mr. Bernhard said. “We aim to be the number one manufacturer in this market of the future.” When asked about the current legislation concerning driverless HGVs, Bernhard added: “We’ll resolve these things in the next five to 10 years.” If driverless trucks are to be on the road by 2025 as Bernhard and the rest of Daimler hope, then governments will need to address questions such as what will happen if a gadget is faulty and therefore causes an accident? Would it technically be the manufacturers fault or would the blame be laid at the driver for not noticing that there was an issue with their vehicle in the first place?
Other considerations Daimler will have to make is that technology is becoming increasingly connected, which means that the software in autonomous trucks could be compromised by cybercriminals. By hacking into certain systems criminals could hijack trucks carrying expensive goods or even force them to crash and injure other road users. These are just two issues that Daimler and road safety regulatory bodies will have to consider over the next ten years, which means that conversations need to start now.