The current Freightliner Cascadia already features SAE level2 semi-autonomous driving capability. Picture: SUPPLIED
The current Freightliner Cascadia already features SAE level2 semi-autonomous driving capability.  Picture: SUPPLIED

Daimler Trucks is to invest about R8bn over the next few years in a bid to bring highly automated trucks (SAE level 4) to the road within a decade. It made this announcement at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas where it showed off its new Freightliner Cascadia, said to be the first ever partially automated series production truck on North American roads.

The new Cascadia features SAE 2 level autonomous driving capability where its “hands off” automated system takes full control of acceleration, braking and steering. However, the driver still monitors progress and must be ready to intervene immediately at any time if the automated system fails to respond properly.

The crux of this investment is to skip SAE level 3 (“eyes off”) which would allow the driver to safely turn their attention away from the driving tasks and the truck will handle situations that call for an immediate response, such as emergency braking. Instead, Daimler Trucks wants to move straight to SAE level 4 which is described as a “mind off” scenario where driver attention is not a full-time requirement.

This level of autonomous driving necessitates driver support in limited spatial areas or special circumstances, such as gridlocked traffic conditions. Outside of this scope, level 4 trucks can ably and safely abort the trip, or park themselves if the driver fails to retake control. Also, the driver may safely leave the cabin or go to sleep while the truck carries on with the journey. The company also confirms that all its existing level 2 systems will be raised to level 4.

A move towards this 4th level will reportedly increase efficiency and productivity while significantly cutting costs per kilometre — parameters said to be unachievable with SAE 3 levels.  

Martin Daum, board of management member of Daimler with responsibility for Daimler Trucks & Buses, said: “Now we take automated trucking to the next level: we’re ready to launch the first partially automated new Freightliner Cascadia in 2019 – and next, we tackle highly automated trucks.

“Highly automated trucks will improve safety, boost the performance of logistics and offer a great value proposition to our customers — and thus contribute considerably to a sustainable future of transportation.”