Self-Driving Cars

Spooked by Self-Driving Cars? Get a Load of Daimler's Awesome Autonomous Big Rig.

Spooked by Self-Driving Cars? Get a Load of Daimler's Awesome Autonomous Big Rig.
Image credit: Daimler
Former West Coast Editor
3 min read

Big, bold and driverless. Daimler Trucks North America’s new autonomous big rig is a lean, mean self-driving machine.

In a spectacular nighttime premiere, the Portland, Ore.-based automaker yesterday debuted its new Freightliner Inspiration Truck from atop the Hoover Dam. The Guinness World Record-breaking publicity stunt introduced the world to the first street-legal commercial autonomous 18-wheeler, but not without first transforming the massive national historical landmark into the largest projection screen ever. It was quite the glitzy reveal.   

Related: Tend to Get Carsick? Steer Clear of Self-Driving Cars.

Nevada governor Brian Sandoval joined Daimler executive Wolfgang Bernhard at a press event before the unveiling to christen the robo-truck with one of the Silver State’s autonomous vehicle license plates, marking a first for a commercial truck. The shiny, new plate means the Inspiration can roll along the Nevada’s highways and roads legally, minus a real, live human being behind the wheel, with tons and tons of freight in tow.

Sounds sort of scary, right? Not if you trust the sophisticated technology that makes it tick.

The heavy-duty trailer truck steers and drives itself using a high-tech system titled “Highway Pilot.” It works similarly to the autopilot feature on commercial airlines. Relying on “smart” sensors, radar, software and stereoscopic cameras, the system is designed to minimize driver fatigue -- not to replace truck drivers altogether. Basically, drivers could switch to autonomous mode when napping (or catching up on Facebook or whatever).

Related: Driverless Cars Won't Make Roadways Perfectly Safe

With the Highway Pilot’s “electric brain” engaged, the Inspiration cruises along on its own, without an iota of driver involvement, remaining in its lane while constantly scanning the road for lane lines, other motor vehicles and road signs. The driverless tech will only take the wheel on the highway, not on surface streets, and won’t pass slower vehicles on its own, Wired reports. In iffy situations the system can’t navigate -- like snow or other items obscuring lane lines -- it will ring alarms and illuminate warning icons on the dashboard. If the driver doesn’t heed the alerts in approximately five seconds (ample time for a crash to occur, mind you), the big rig will slowly curb its speed and eventually stop.

To see the Inspiration roll along the top of the Hoover Dam during its driverless maiden voyage, check out the video below:

Related: TomTom Says Its Maps Are Destined for Self-Driving Cars

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