Daimler first introduced its autonomous Freightliner truck in 2015 in a lavish ceremony at the Hoover dam in Nevada. At that time Daimler laid out its vision for autonomous trucking, which included platooning, where a group of trucks electronically couple together to travel in tandem, which would decrease overall aerodynamic drag, regulate speed and save fuel.
Yesterday, at CES, Daimler gave an update on the program in a news conference called “Next Level” which gave a program update to the assembled guests and those watching the live stream.
Daimler outlined a plan to have Level 2 autonomous trucks on the road by July of this year. The Freightliner Cascadia is the first to feature Daimler’s updated technologies. Daimler will continue to develop these trucks with the goal of launching Level 4 autonomous trucks introduced in Europe and America in the next few years.
Of the new Freightliner Cascadia, Daimler says:
“With Active Drive Assist [Mercedes-Benz Actros, FUSO Super Great] and Detroit Assurance 5.0 with Active Lane Assist [Freightliner, new Cascadia], Daimler Trucks is already bringing partially automated driving features into series production. The new system can independently brake, accelerate and steer.
“Unlike systems that only work above a certain speed, Active Drive Assist / Detroit Assurance 5.0 make partially automated driving possible in all speed ranges for the driver for the first time in a series production truck. Active lateral control and the connection of longitudinal or lateral control in all speed ranges are new, thanks to the fusion of radar and camera information.”
But the really important news of the conference was Daimler’s “reassessment” of the platooning programs they were prepared to implement. CEO Martin Daum revealed that the plans looked good on paper and in certain controlled tests, but in the real world they just didn’t achieve the anticipated efficiencies.
Daum noted that there were just “too few moments on public roads”, even in ideal conditions, to achieve the fuel savings that platooning should produce. Worse, if a platoon was interrupted or broken for some reason, any potential fuel savings were consumed by the extra fuel required to reconnect the platoon.
From the Daimler Trucks Press Release:
“Results show that fuel savings, even in perfect platooning conditions, are less than expected and that those savings are further diminished when the platoon gets disconnected and the trucks must accelerate to reconnect. At least for U.S. long-distance applications, analysis currently shows no business case for customers driving platoons with new, highly aerodynamic trucks.”
So, Daimler, at least for the moment, has all but abandoned platooning.
This is important as many were looking to Daimler to show the way for platooning technologies and strategies, not just for trucking, but for autonomous cars as well. Yes, others are experimenting with platooning as well (Scania, SARTRE, others), but Daimler is the most highly visible and highly influential player in this space at the moment – their actions matter.
We have all heard the techno-utopian scenario of merging our autonomous car on to the motorway and joining a platoon which would whisk us and our fellow travellers to far away destinations in a fuel-saving convoy of vehicles.
Now that scenario seems doomed, as the fuel/battery savings just may not be worth the cost of the platooning technologies.
Stay with Car Design News this week for further reveals from Daimler, including the new Mercedes CLA and an updated version of its bespoke MBUX Infotainment System.