Daimler's self-driving big rig makes big entrance in Nevada

May 6, 2015 byKimberly Pierceall
Self-driving semi-truck makes debut on Hoover Dam
Freightliner unveils its Inspiration self-driving truck during an event at the Hoover Dam Tuesday, May 5, 2015, near Boulder City, Nev. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Its name is "Inspiration" and Daimler Trucks says it's the first ever self-driving semi-truck licensed to drive on public roads—in this case Nevada's highways—not only for testing, but business, too.

Daimler Trucks North America LLC debuted the self-driving big rig Tuesday night with a drive—and a driver steering—atop the Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona border.

Taking a line from astronaut Neil Armstrong, Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard of Daimler Trucks and Buses told the crowd bused to the site from Las Vegas for the news conference that they were about to witness "a short drive for man and a long haul for mankind."

On Wednesday, the company planned test-drives with invited members of the media to show off the automated technology.

"We are really showing that we're at the cradle of innovation," Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said Tuesday after helping affix the state's automated vehicle license to the truck.

The truck isn't quite a working reality, though. For one, Daimler isn't taking customer orders just yet.

"We're far from that. We're just getting people inspired," said Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, member of the board of management of Daimler AG.

The company, if it was in the physical logistics business, could ship goods between Reno and Las Vegas on the state's highways if it wanted to thanks to its state license, a first of its kind for an autonomous semi-truck. But it won't be doing that. Instead, it will be conducting more tests and showing off what the truck can do.

"You have to give people something to play with," said Daimler Trucks North America president and CEO Martin Daum. Only then can the company make a product to sell.

As he walked the length of the Hoover Dam back the way his company's truck came Tuesday, Daum said it was a first step, much like landing on the moon. It may be many more years before man lives on the moon, he said, but between those first steps and today, there have been advancements.

Legal and philosophical questions remain, as does perfecting the technology.

Daum said society might forgive a number of deaths caused by tired truck drivers at the wheel but they would never forgive a single fatal crash blamed on a fully automated big rig.

That's also why the company has no intention of ditching drivers. Instead, in this new autonomous world, the driver would be more of an on-board logistics manager.

Technology companies and consumer car makers—Daimler's Mercedes-Benz included—have been toying for years with making and selling autonomous cars with some technology already appearing in some cars today, including blind spot warnings, automatic parallel parking and braking assist.

Still, "we believe that before passenger cars will be cruising around in suburbs, long before that, you will be seeing heavy trucks running on the interstate highways," Bernhard said. There are no intersections, no red lights, no pedestrians, he said, making it a far less complex trip for a truck to make.

Bernhard said more states need to allow testing of autonomous driving before fleets of self-driving semi-trucks fill U.S. freeways and interstates anytime soon.

"Then it starts to make sense for our customers," Bernhard said, when states that allow it are linked together. "That will be the point when the tipping point is reached."

For now four states, including Nevada, and the District of Columbia certify testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads as long as a human driver is behind the wheel, and a few others are keen on allowing the tests.

"We need more than that, and it will take some time," he said.

Explore further: Daimler gives look at autonomous 'living space' car

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11 comments

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Returners
1 / 5 (3) May 06, 2015
More robots to put humans out of jobs.
Uncle Ira
2 / 5 (4) May 06, 2015
More robots to put humans out of jobs.


@ Returnering-Skippy. How you are Cher? You got to have the job before you can get put out of him. If you don't mind getting a little dirty and getting some bumps and scraps maybe you should think about trying your hand on the the towboats. It is hard work but it pays good and a robot can not do it.
Waaalt
1 / 5 (2) May 06, 2015
These have to be made illegal or they can literally destroy the world economy all by themselves.

In most US states and in much of the world, truck driver is the most common job.

It would be the height of irresponsibility to destroy those jobs first and only then begin worrying about how to fix the resulting economic damage.
SaulAlinsky
5 / 5 (1) May 06, 2015
Or you know, you could modify the economic system.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) May 06, 2015
More robots to put humans out of jobs.

I dunno about you - but I find working for pay not exactly something to strive for (Ask yourself this: if you were handed a billion dollars tomorrow - would you go to work the day after?).

If the economy were to produce enough goods so that everyone can have what they need (and some of the things they _want_ on top of that) without anyone lifing a finger...what would be the problem with that?

Or you know, you could modify the economic system.

Exactly. It isn't a religion (though some here seem to treat it as one)
snoosebaum
not rated yet May 06, 2015
i guess they will work as the roads will clear from fear.
Eikka
not rated yet May 06, 2015
(Ask yourself this: if you were handed a billion dollars tomorrow - would you go to work the day after?).


And if you were told the world would end tomorrow, would you recharge your cellphone?

Silly question.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) May 06, 2015
I find working for pay not exactly something to strive for


The alternatives to that are more or less working without pay, and not working and getting paid.

Since work in some form is still by and large necessary to maintain a society, the latter of the two is generally impossible to strive for - unless you like to destroy your own society and yourself along it or you wish to enslave others.

Therefore the only option remaining by elimination is to work without pay, which implies getting your sustenance by some other means. Whether by some form of communism or collectivism, slavery or indentured servitude, is up to you to decide.

If you do not wish to strive for any one of those, then we observe that you should strive to work for pay - or win the lottery.

If the economy were to produce enough goods so that everyone can have what they need without anyone lifing a finger ... what would be the problem with that?


Nothing, except that it doesn't.
TopherTO
not rated yet May 06, 2015
Or you know, you could modify the economic system.


shout out to rules for radicals
Osiris1
not rated yet May 07, 2015
No way a human driver will be able to compete with the ultimate slave, a robot! All those jobs will be lost. However, what will this thing do on a slippery mountain downslope covered with ice? Will it have a sense of 'self preservation'...=..load preservation in that it will use human piloted automobiles or smaller trucks as cushions to stop it from total destruction even if the collateral damage is lost human lives. Yeah, as long as the freight, like Chinese toys, is not damaged 'too much'. Such a thing will not even need a cab fit for humans, just a little box with cameras over a short engine compartment. Suppose it has a breakdown, well there is some form of "On-Star" probably.
Eikka
not rated yet May 07, 2015
However, what will this thing do on a slippery mountain downslope covered with ice?


It won't do anything, because they're not going to deploy them there. The AI isn't nearly intelligent enough to do anything than drive in a convoy that is probably being pulled by a person in the lead truck.

You should also read the article:

That's also why the company has no intention of ditching drivers. Instead, in this new autonomous world, the driver would be more of an on-board logistics manager.


Dude sits in the cab and takes over when the computer throws its hands up.

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