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Taking a ride in a Peterbilt with Advanced Driver Assist System

By on September 2, 2015
inside-look

It’s amazing to see how many years of technology development came together to enable trucks to operate on their own. I rode in Peterbilt’s autonomous truck and had the feeling I could have done what our driver did. He got it started, switched to autonomous mode and sat back, hands off the wheel and feet off the pedals. The truck performed flawlessly. It accelerated, decelerated and navigated the twisty road racing circuit at Texas Motor Speedway, guided by its special GPS unit accurate to 5 cm (about two inches).

The driver can take over at will, but unless the function is turned off, the truck will want to get back on its pre-programmed course in an increasingly aggressive way.

So does this mean we will soon see platoons of driverless trucks on the road delivering freight? Not, I believe, for a very long time.

inside-look1First of all, it still takes a human to react to something unexpected like a construction site or an accident ahead. Even the best GPS or image recognition software can’t (yet) evaluate alternatives like a human can.

Second, it will take decades for the overwhelming majority of vehicles and roads to be autonomy-capable, perhaps as much as 20 to 30 years.

Third, the lawyers and legislators will need to work out liability issues.

Although Freightliner registered their autonomous truck for street use in Nevada and showed a driver working on a tablet while “driving,” the conditions were controlled. Instead of taking over truck driving, I see truck autonomy being like an autopilot on a commercial airliner. It’s a good tool for the pilot, but the pilot is still needed. As will be the truck driver, at least for the foreseeable future.

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