Daimler Brings Intimidating, Self-Driving Big Rigs To German Autobahn

Daimler and Google couldn’t be taking more opposite approaches to putting autonomous vehicles on public roads. Google’s Lexus SUV and “gumdrop” car are unassuming vehicles that are meant to blend in with human traffic without causing a stir. Daimler, on the other hand, just sent a Mercedes-Benz Actros truck on a highway between Denkendorf and Stuttgart in Germany.

“Safe testing in real traffic is absolutely decisive for the development of this technology to market maturity. We are now able to proceed with this,” said Daimler Executive Board member Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard.

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The truck features Daimler’s Highway Pilot software and the requisite hardware, including front-mounted radar and a camera. For now, the truck also has a human driver who sits in the vehicle and can take control of the truck if there’s a problem. If the truck has trouble sensing road conditions, it turns control over to the driver, but the driver can also take over whenever he needs to. Daimler also designed the truck to stop automatically if the truck tries to pass control to the driver and the driver ignores it (read: falls asleep).

This computer + human version of driving is known as semi-autonomous driving. Google is taking this route with its cars, too. It provides the public with a sense of security, but as the public grows accustomed to seeing autonomous vehicles (and as the laws change to catch up with the technology entering the roads), fully-driverless vehicles are going to become a normal sight. Daimler’s Actros marks a fairly bold push to show the world that even large, intimidating vehicles can travel alone.

Daimler praised the truck’s performance during the trial and pointed to the benefits of having computer-controlled trucks, including, it claims, reduced CO2 emissions due to more efficient accelerating, braking and gear shifting.

If all this sounds familiar to you, it’s be case Daimler brought autonomous trucks to the U.S. earlier this year. The Freightliner Inspiration received permission to drive in Nevada this summer, as long as it, too, has a human driver ready to take over the controls.