The move towards driverless and autonomous vehicles has just moved one step closer as Daimler have tested a driverless lorry on a public road in Germany. By simply pushing a button the vehicle was controlled by its inbuilt ‘highway pilot’ and this helped it to remain safe and avoid risks like other road users via a system of radars and camera sensors.
Whilst the lorry drove without guidance from a driver, it was still integral that a human driver was present and focused on the road at all times. It’s a significant step towards making the roads safer and using technology positively on the roads, rather than it being a distraction.
The lorry in question was a Mercedes-Benz Actros truck and as soon as they hit the main highway the driver pressed the blue button which activates the autonomous driving system. The truck then went onto successfully pilot the car along the main motorway, reaching speeds of 50mph.
The camera and radar combination which pilot the vehicle helped it to avoid vehicles and obstacles on the road but also to recognise road markings.
Ever-Present Road Risk Protection
Speaking on behalf of Daimler, executive Wolfgang Bernhard explained that the highway pilot provides safety because ‘it is never inattentive, it is never tired, it is always present 100%’ and unlike human drivers ‘it never loses concentration.’ Bernhard also resolutely claimed that the lorry was safer than any human driver and he went as far as to say that the highway pilot drives better than any human driver can.
Also speaking on the subject, Alan Stevens, representing the Transport Research Laboratory told the BBC that this step forward should mean the lorries can now be put through realistic road trials and this in turn will mean they can be tested for their economic and safety benefits.
Driver Fatigue and Road Traffic Accidents
Road traffic accidents involving professional drivers are often partly caused by driver fatigue, especially when a driver has had a particularly long or challenging shift or delivery to make. Professional drivers, especially those who drive HGV, reported increased levels of sleepiness and find themselves in a disproportionate number of fatigue-related accidents according to RoSPA and with technology working to provide protection for drivers, although definitely not replace them at this stage, we can hope for roads which are safer in the future.
This new trial from Daimler has also come at a time where Japanese automotive engineers have launched a trial where they plan to provide self-drive cars to people in 2016, with these vehicles able to self-drive along a specific 3km stretch of road in the Kanagawa region. This company, Robot Taxi Inc, stand out amongst others because they are focused on providing vehicles that need no driver whatsoever whilst companies like Daimler are looking to develop supportive automotive technologies.