The world's first autonomous 18-wheeler is getting down to business. At a ceremony at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Tuesday, Gov. Brian Sandoval handed over an official Nevada license plate for use by a new Freightliner Inspiration Truck on public roads.
Though a human "driver" will need to sit behind the wheel in case of an emergency, the new system is intended to usher in an era that could very well lead to fleets of trucks that have no humans on board at all, said Wolfgang Bernhard, the board member overseeing truck operations at Freightliner's parent, Daimler.
Even in its current, more limited form, the technology offers a number of advantages, Bernhard said, noting that 90 percent of truck crashes involve human error, according to government data, much of that due to fatigue.
"An autonomous system never gets tired, never gets distracted," Bernhard said. "It is always on 100 percent."
Proponents of autonomous vehicles also contend the technology will reduce fuel consumption and emissions and improve roadway utilization—translating into more cars operating more smoothly on crowded urban roads.
Initially, however, Daimler plans to operate the first of its Freightliner Inspiration Trucks in one of the country's least crowded states. Nevada was the first state in the country to create special regulations for the use of self-driving vehicles—along with a unique license plate, the bright red tags on the Freightliner rig distinguished by its symbol for infinity.
For the time being, the truck will be limited in where it can operate until other states create similar regulations—California and Michigan may be next. "Ultimately, this has to be federally regulated to have a consistent basis across the country," said Martin Daum, the president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America.
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