“The truck of the future is a Mercedes-Benz that drives itself.” Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, the member of Daimler’s Board of Management responsible for Daimler Trucks and Buses, came straight to the point in his description of the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025, which had its world premiere today. The truck is equipped with the extremely intelligent Highway Pilot assistance system, which enables it to drive completely autonomously at speeds of up to 85 km/h. Daimler Trucks today demonstrated the vehicle on a trip along a section of the A14 autobahn near the city of Magdeburg, in which the Future Truck drove itself in completely realistic driving situations.
“The Future Truck 2025 is our response to the major challenges and opportunities associated with road freight transport in the future,” said Wolfgang Bernhard. The many advantages offered by self-driving trucks are clear. The Future Truck 2025 leads to more efficiency and better safety and connectivity. This in turn results in a more sustainable transport system to the benefit of the economy, society and consumers. The focus is the connectivity of the truck with its complete environment. That starts with the driver and the hauler and includes the infrastructure and other traffic participants. “With the Future Truck 2025, Daimler Trucks is once again highlighting its pioneering role in innovative technologies and is opening up a new era in truck transport. We aim to be the number one manufacturer in this market of the future, which we believe will offer solid revenue and earnings potential,” continues Bernhard.
The world premiere featured an impressive demonstration of the truck’s technology in the presence of several hundred media representatives, government officials, businesspeople, capital-market analysts and investors. In addition, Daimler AG held a conference on the future of freight transport with the involvement of renowned industry experts. The goal of the event was to establish an ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders about the conditions for transport in the future, in which self-driving trucks will play a major role.
“If the legislative framework for autonomous driving can be created quickly, the launch of the Highway Pilot is conceivable by the middle of the next decade,” Bernhard explained. “That’s why Daimler Trucks is committed to maintain a dialogue with government officials and authorities, and with all other parties affected by this development. 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.”
Transport challenges of the future
The “World Transport Reports” study conducted by experts at the ProgTrans consulting company predicts that freight transport volumes in the EU will increase by approximately 20 percent between 2008 and 2025. There will be virtually no change in the shares of that volume accounted for by different transport modes. This means that trucks will continue to account for around 75 percent of all freight transported by road in the EU. The volume of road transport in Germany alone will increase from 3.7 billion tons today to nearly 5.5 billion tons by 2050, according to the country’s Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. Reducing the cost of such shipments would spur economic growth.
This boost would be welcome, especially because competitive and cost pressures are growing in the freight-forwarding sector. Rising fuel prices, road tolls and more stringent environmental regulations are making the purchase and operation of trucks more expensive, and it is also becoming increasingly difficult to find well-qualified truck drivers.
The solution for long-distance haulage: the self-driving truck
The Future Truck 2025 offers solutions based on Daimler’s extensive technological expertise. Mercedes-Benz is already the industry leader for driver assistance technology in trucks, having installed hundreds of thousands of proximity cruise control, automatic braking, stability control and lane-keeping assistance systems. Another new system known as “Predictive Powertrain Control” uses information about road topography and route characteristics to adjust the operation of the drivetrain in order to maximize fuel economy.
Additional and improved assistance systems will follow in the coming years. These systems will communicate with one another and enable vehicles to operate without any driver intervention, especially on highways and major roads. The highly intelligent Highway Pilot is comparable to an autopilot system in an airplane, which is probably the most advanced form of autonomous mobility in existence today.
Optimally executed acceleration and braking phases will help to ensure a homogeneous flow of traffic and will reduce fuel consumption and emissions of the Future Truck 2025. Autonomous driving will also enable more precise transport scheduling. Moreover, trucks that communicate with each other can travel more closely together and therefore take up less road space. There would be fewer traffic jams and the associated costs would be reduced. Finally, the lower risk of accidents caused by human error would reduce insurance rates.
Autonomous driving: a new job profile for truckers
The Highway Pilot system will significantly upgrade the job profile of truck drivers. It will not only free them from having to perform monotonous tasks; it will also give them more time for tasks that were previously handled by office workers at shipping companies. In other words, it will be possible for truckers to advance to new positions as transport managers, making truck driving a more attractive profession. Autonomous driving could thus help to resolve the shortage of truck drivers.
Along with numerous new components, the Future Truck 2025 also includes tried and tested systems that are already in use, in passenger cars for example. In this regard, Daimler has once again demonstrated its ability to efficiently transfer technology within the Group. With Highway Pilot, Daimler Trucks is now the world’s first truck manufacturer with plans to develop an autonomous driving system for use in production vehicles.