Imagine you’re on the highway. You glance into the cab of the 18-wheeler next to you — and there’s no driver. That day might be getting closer.
Automaker Daimler unveiled a truck last week that drives itself, called the Freightliner Inspiration. But the truck is not yet entirely autonomous.
“You still have the driver in the driver’s seat, ready to take over at all times in case something goes wrong or the system encounters a situation it’s not really well prepared for,” says Alex Davies, associate editor for Wired, who was at the demonstration and rode in the big rig.
The driver controls the rig on surface roads, but on the highway, engages the autopilot mode. Cameras detect the lane lines to keep the truck headed in the right direction, Davies tells NPR’s Rachel Martin.
“Then from there on, the truck will stay in its lane, maintain its speed and a safe distance from other vehicles,” he says. “But you still need to be in the seat, ready to take over.”
And being ready to take over means the driver can’t exactly take a nap.
When it’s time for the driver to take over — at the correct exit or if bad weather hits — the truck alerts the driver with a beep. If the driver doesn’t respond, the truck slows and eventually comes to a complete stop, Davies says.
Daimler says the Inspiration, the first self-driving truck licensed to roll on public roads — highways and interstates in Nevada — is the future of trucking and may hit the market before autonomous cars, according to the Associated Press. Drivers will still be human, but might be called “logistics managers.”
“The human brain is still the best computer money can buy,” said Daimler Trucks North America LLC CEO Martin Daum.
Davies says no automaker will ever use the term “driverless” for a vehicle, preferring the safer-sounding “autonomous” or, in the case of the Freightliner Inspiration, “piloted.”
Virtually every article in support of bicycle advocacy leads with a detailed report on the number of deaths to pedestrians and passengers that occur each year. Well suppose that these statistics plummeted sharply because the technology is in place to make motor vehicles unable to collide with other vehicles. Suppose too that the vehicle is autonomous and can assist in keeping truckers from falling asleep and causing crashes.
Autonomous vehicles are in our future. What will the bicycle advocacy plea for safety be when the bicycles that kill pedestrians are the only fatalities occurring in any given year? What too will need to be done to update the technology of the common bicycle to make it a roadworthy companion to motor vehicles?