Freightliner Creates Driver Certification for Autonomous Vehicles
At a recent press event for the trucking industry, Freightliner Trucks attempted to boost confidence in the nation’s truckers that even if trucks of the future drive themselves, like Freightliner’s Inspiration Truck, they won’t be “driverless”. It is designed “to create the best possible experience” for drivers and become their “partner” at work. The company says it’s not about replacing truck drivers; it’s about making their jobs better and their work easier and safer. “We’re really focused on safety with this, and I think that has been obscured by the ‘driverless’ factor that the mainstream press took,” said Diane Hames, general manager, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA).
So the truck is created… now what? A driver training and certification program, of course! Freightliner worked in conjunction with the Nevada Department of Transportation to create the assessment process for truckers. A group of journalists from the trucking industry recently went through Freightliner’s new instruction under the guidance of Jim Martin, manager of the company’s vehicle performance group. Martin oversaw the training and the testing for the group on the Freightliner Inspiration Truck.
“We just want to make sure you can handle the vehicle in a safe and appropriate manner,” Martin said. “The important thing to know is to be aware, and be available to take control back from the vehicle at any point.” Martin went over the basics of the Highway Pilot (HWP) system, explaining how it uses swanky camera and radar technology to guide the truck within outlined lanes, all while avoiding collisions, maintaining speed and steering, and automatically braking.
He also provided the group with a checklist of all elements required for certification.
The driver must:
- Take part in the system training and understand the technology involved.
- Show their knowledge of system capabilities and limitations before they operate it
- Exhibit the ability to operate the vehicle in normal driving mode as well as autonomous driving mode.
- Know when the HWP system is available for use.
- Demonstrate how to enable/activate HWP.
- Understand and demonstrate how to disable and/or take back manual control of the vehicle.
- Illustrate the ability to react appropriately when the DTNA trainer causes a system error.
- Have a reaction time to system error that is 1/2 second or better.
- Be able to correct a vehicle trajectory error in no more than 2.5 seconds.
- Correct lane deviations to no more than about 2 feet.
Just a handful of years ago, the technology used in the Inspiration Trucks may have seemed unattainable, or far fetched. But now with the creation of various safety systems, the Highway Pilot tech has been able to step off the drawing board and climb into a truck. “It’s hard to believe, even three or four years ago, that we’d be here today,” he said. “That step between a completely manual vehicle and a completely autonomous vehicle seemed really huge.”
A key benefit to the Inspiration Truck is that the driver should be able to relax, enjoy the scenary and take a breather in an otherwise stressful job. Derek Rotz, director of advanced engineering for Daimler Truckers North America, put it this way,“The way I like to look at it, driving today is like staring at a clock—it’s tedious. Just having the chance to enjoy the landscape for a moment is a lot more pleasurable, and reduces fatigue.”
DTNA’s general manager for marketing and strategy, Diane Hames, thinks that the trucks cameras and radars and the like really add to the abilities of the driver, making them “beyond human”, at least while in their truck. “It’s really about integrating the driver with the truck,” she said. “It’s an extension of the driver’s capabilities.”
Who knows what the future holds in the way of autonomous vehicles. The outlook seems to change every few years with emerging new technology and radical advances. Hames commented, “This was a showcase of what is possible when we combine these building blocks. But it’s really just wherever your imagination can take you.”