Google's self-driving car has just been trumped by Mercedes-Benz's self-driving "Future Truck 2025," which debuted Thursday on Germany's Autobahn. "The truck of the future is a Mercedes-Benz that drives itself," said Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, member of Daimler's Board of Management.
The truck uses a system called the Highway Pilot, which enables the human driver to switch control over to the truck's embedded system after entering the flow of traffic. Once the truck reaches 50 m.p.h., the driver can then enjoy a hands-free ride.
"It's strange at first," Hans Luft, the truck driver during Thursday's demonstration, told The New York Times. "But you quickly learn to trust it and then it's great." He used the truck's 45-degree swivel seat and tapped on a tablet to show that he was not driving.
In order to allow the truck to autonomously drive alongside other cars, the Highway Pilot uses a combination of vehicle-to-vehicle communication via Wi-Fi (with a range of 1,640 feet), lateral radar on both sides of the truck (with a range of 197 feet) and full range (820 feet) and short-range (230 feet) radar mounted on the front of the truck. The truck also uses a front stereo camera, mounted just under its windshield.
The truck debuted along an eight-lane stretch of the autobahn alongside 20 other vehicles to simulate real driving conditions.
The biggest hurdle driverless cars and trucks face is not technological - but a regulatory one.
"The deployment of autonomous vehicles today is less about technological capabilities and more about the ability of stakeholders to handle the various commercial and governance complexities associated with having such vehicles on the road," said Ernst and Young in a research note.
Most countries' laws do not allow for autonomous vehicles - although a city in England has authorized 100 self-driving cars for public use next year, and California's Department of Motor Vehicles has approved regulations for autonomous car tests.
Although Daimler is conservative in its projected timeline, calling this the "Future Truck of 2025," Bernhard made a bold claim: "If the legislative framework for autonomous driving can be created quickly, the launch of the Highway Pilot is conceivable by the middle of the next decade."