Daimler Truck’s decision to develop autonomous trucks first in the US depends on multiple factors. Firstly, the States have the most branched and extensive motorway network globally, and the speed difference between trucks and cars is not as high as in the European Union.
Moreover, US highways represent a more structured environment than an urban situation. There are lanes headed in the same direction, and it’s easier to predict where cars are supposed to be going. In this environment, the Freightliner Cascadia can handle most traffic situations: lane mergers, merging into traffic from a ramp, changing lanes, and slowing down or speeding up.
The US legislative framework is also favourable since the only counterpart the truck manufacturers deal with is the US Department of Transportation (DoT), which is proactive in facilitating the introduction of technical innovations.
Furthermore, self-driving semis respond to clear business cases and market needs, such as a continuous increase in freight demand transported by road (a 30 per cent increase is expected by 2030) and a growing shortage of heavy vehicle drivers.
According to the American Trucking Association estimates, unfilled driver jobs slid to nearly 78,000 units in 2022, down about four per cent from more than 81,000 in 2021. It’s still a considerable number that is bound to skyrocket, according to ATA forecast, to more than 160.000 units in 2031. This shortage is due, among other reasons, to a significant number of retirements and the industry’s failure to recruit more women, who account for eight per cent of the overall workforce.
In developing autonomous driving solutions for the States, Daimler Truck has focused on a specific business case: connecting one logistics centre to another (hub-to-hub) along a motorway. When the truck arrives at the destination hub, a professional truck driver takes it to the final unloading point.
In 2022, Freightliner had a market share of 42 per cent in the heavy-duty segment, which reached a full-year total sale volume of more than 254,000 vehicles (compared with about 222,000 units in 2021).
For safety reasons, the experimental Cascadia has many redundant systems. There are redundant (and independent) systems for the foundation brakes, steering actuation, vehicle data transmission network (CAN-Bus), and parking brake. The primary and secondary EBS Controllers, in particular, offer precise and reliable controls to decelerate the truck and the trailer.
Should the primary EBS encounter any critical faults, the secondary EBS will take over to execute a safety procedure called Minimal Risk Manoeuvre (MRM). Two servo motors electronically assist the steering gear. Should any one of the servo motor experience a fault, the second unit takes over entirely to provide the required steering commands to execute the MRM procedure.
Finally, anti-hacker protection (Cyber security), which is of paramount importance in developing autonomous driving solutions, has been fully addressed by Torc engineers. Although Daimler Truck North America did not disclose any figures about autonomous driving vehicle sales forecast, it expects that self-driving vehicles will manage six per cent of freight volume by the end of this decade.
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