The Freightliner Inspiration Truck is the world’s first autonomous truck to be granted a license for road use. The Freightliner Inspiration Truck is based on the series-produced US Freightliner Cascadia truck. It has been equipped with the Highway Pilot technology and modified for use on American highways. The Highway Pilot system is the only one in the world to feature the kind of sensor and camera technology that makes operation of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck possible. Freightliner Trucks presents the most innovative product with the highest degree of automation for the USA.
The extraordinary exterior of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck is dominated by the hood design, which overlaps the usual radiator grille.
The Freightliner Inspiration Truck with Highway Pilot system is the world’s first autonomous truck to be granted a license for road use in the State of Nevada. In July last year Daimler Trucks provided the world’s first demonstration of an autonomous truck in action when the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 drove along a cordoned-off section of the A14 autobahn near Magdeburg. The Inspiration Truck is now the next milestone on the road to series production of the Highway Pilot system. The development engineers of Daimler Trucks transfered the system to the US brand Freightliner and modified it for use on American highways. The result: the State of Nevada certified no less than two Freightliner Inspiration Trucks for regular operations on public roads.
Highway Pilot in operation on American roads
With the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, Daimler Trucks has once more succeeded in implementing the latest innovations across all business units and brands. The Freightliner Inspiration Truck is based on the series-produced US Freightliner Cascadia model, but with the addition of the Highway Pilot technology. The latter comprises a front radar and a stereo camera plus tried and tested assistance systems such as the Adaptive Cruise Control, as seen in the standard Freightliner Cascadia models and the Mercedes-Benz Actros. For licensing on public roads in Nevada, the technology was further developed and the excellent interaction of compo-nents extensively tested. As part of the truck´s so-called Marathon Run, the Freightliner Inspiration Truck covered over 10,000 miles (over 16,000 kilometers) on a test circuit in Papenburg, Germany.
Despite the common technologies, the Freightliner Inspiration Truck, the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck as well as the standard vehicles of both brands are independent vehicle concepts which are adapted to the appropriate market and set of demands.
How the Freightliner Inspiration Truck works
As soon as the Freightliner Inspiration Truck is safely on the highway, the driver can activate the Highway Pilot system. The driver receives a visual prompt in the instrument cluster to activate the “Highway Pilot.” The vehicle switches to autonomous mode and adapts to the speed of traffic. The driver receives a confirmation message in the instrument cluster, “Highway Pilot active.”
The Highway Pilot system uses a complex stereo camera and radar systems with lane-keeping and collision-prevention functions. It regulates the speed, applies the brakes and steers. This combination of systems creates an autonomous vehicle that can operate safely under a wide range of driving conditions – the truck automatically complies with posted speed limits, regulates the distance from the vehicle ahead or uses the stop-and-go function during rush hour.
The Highway Pilot system does not initiate autonomous passing maneuvers. These have to be executed by the driver. The same is true for leaving the highway and changing lanes. Via the user interface the Highway Pilot keeps the driver visually informed about its current status and accepts instructions. The driver can deactivate the Highway Pilot manually and is able to override the system at any time. If the vehicle is no longer able to process crucial aspects of its environment, e.g. due to road construction or bad weather, the driver is prompted to retake control. In addition to a visual prompt in the instrument cluster there is also a subsequent audible notification.
The technology of the Inspiration Truck
A radar unit centered in the front bumper of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck monitors the road at close and long range. The long-range sensor goes out to about 820 feet (250 meters) at an aperture angle of 18 degrees and detects vehicles in a long and narrow area. The short-range sensor goes out to about 230 feet (70 meters) at an aperture angle of 130 degrees and detects vehicles in a wider area that could merge into the lane in front of the truck. The front radar unit forms the basis for the Adaptive Cruise Control system and the Active Brake Assist system, which are already familiar from the Mercedes-Benz Actros and the Detroit Assurance™ series of safety systems in the series production model of the Freightliner Cascadia Evolution.
The area in front of the truck is also monitored by a stereo camera mounted above the dashboard on the inside of the windshield. The camera has a range of about 100 meters (328 feet) and aperture angles of 45 degrees horizontally and 27 degrees vertically. The camera recognizes pavement markings and communicates with the steering gear of the Highway Pilot system to keep the truck in its lane autonomously.
The Adaptive Cruise Control system of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck uses the same hardware and software as the series production variants of the Mercedes-Benz Actros and Freightliner Cascadia Evolution. The system receives the same input signals within the identical range of values and comprises the same functions and safety features. The use of the standard system ensures that the acceleration and braking maneuvers controlled by the Highway Pilot system are always within the limits of the production vehicle. The active power steering system uses the same hardware as the production vehicles, however, the software has been modified. The system offers the same functions and safety features as the system in the series production vehicle.
The steering gear installed in the Freightliner Inspiration Truck has already been proven on the road in Mercedes-Benz trucks since 2011. The camera of the Lane Keeping Assist system has already completed more than 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers) of testing and has been used in all Mercedes-Benz Advanced Engineering projects since 2008. Testing of the front radar unit also began in 2008 and since then it has successfully completed more than 2 million miles (3 million kilometers) in series production and in tests at Mercedes-Benz Cars and Daimler Trucks.
The extraordinary exterior of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck is dominated by the hood design, which overlaps the usual radiator grille. The hood can be pushed forward and tilted for opening. The door skins are shaped to perfectly blend with the lines of the front end. The side panels were redesigned to form a single unit with the hood and the wheel arches. The wheel arches themselves have been optimized aerodynamically and have a dynamic design.
The exterior lighting of the Inspiration Truck is a true eye-catcher and completely new: the license plate, indicators and the radiator grille shine blue as soon as the vehicle is in autonomous mode, and white and yellow while in standard operation. The unusual headlamps continue the design idiom of the hood.
A special feature in the interior are the bench seats, which were installed specifically for the driving event of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck premiere. In addition, halogen lighting in the interior creates a pleasant, cozy atmosphere.
Leadership role in autonomous driving
As a global commercial vehicle manufacturer Daimler is demonstrating how intelligent technologies can be rolled out across Group brands within the shortest time frame. Daimler Trucks’ worldwide platform strategy in particular allows economies of scale to be made.
A look at the technical systems that will be required for autonomous driving in the future and a comparison with the components in use in today’s passenger cars and commercial vehicles show that Daimler – with its Mercedes-Benz, Freightliner Trucks, Detroit Diesel and Fuso brands – is already in a leading position today. In doing so, the Group secures comprehensive know-how to optimally develop autonomous vehicles for highway traffic.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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