Innovation as a tradition: Daimler Trucks is the leader on the road to autonomous driving

  • ABS, EBS, ESP, ABA: an alphabet of assistance and safety systems
  • Autonomous driving – Daimler Trucks as the vanguard
  • On course for the future: Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025
  • Freightliner Inspiration Truck: On the road autonomously
  • Mercedes-Benz Actros with the Highway Pilot: Autonomous series production truck
Mercedes-Benz has traditionally taken the lead in new safety and assistance systems, and in improving the driver-friendliness of commercial vehicles. The same applies to networking and autonomous driving. In addition to efficiency and safety aspects, the objective is to relieve the driver's workload in monotonous driving situations, improve his concentration and thereby ensure a higher level of safety in road traffic. Know-how accumulated over decades is the basis for developments such as the Highway Pilot and Highway Pilot Connect, on the road to automated driving. They build on the existing assistance systems as a logical further development, and consolidate their capabilities.
ABS, EBS, ESP, ABA: an alphabet of assistance and safety systems
As early as 1981, Mercedes-Benz was the first manufacturer to introduce the anti-lock braking system ABS for trucks. It was followed by acceleration skid control ASR, the Electronic Braking System EBS, assistance systems such as roll control, Proximity Control Assist and Lane Keeping Assist, as well as the Electronic Stability Programme ESP for trucks.
In 2002 the second generation of the Mercedes-Benz Actros introduced the hill holder as a starting aid, and Brake Assist. In 2006 Active Brake Assist (ABA) ushered in a new era for safety systems: For the first time, a truck was able to brake automatically when approaching a slower-moving vehicle ahead. Between 2009 and 2012 the functions of Active Brake Assist were gradually extended. Today the new Mercedes-Benz Actros with ABA 3 automatically initiates emergency braking if there is a danger of a rear-end collision with a moving or stationary obstacle ahead.
In 2011, together with the new Actros, Mercedes-Benz also introduced the drowsiness detection system Attention Assist. This monitors driver fitness, and warns the driver of increasing fatigue. As an extension of Proximity Control Assist, DistronicPlus now relieves the driver of tedious starting and stopping in tailbacks, for example.
Transmission automation from EPS to PowerShift
In parallel with this, Mercedes-Benz Trucks has also continuously set trends for simplified operation and driver-friendliness, making for improved cost-effectiveness and less wear and tear. In 1985 the electropneumatic gearshift EPS revolutionised operation of the transmission: nudging a shift lever knob and briefly operating the clutch was enough to change gear.
The introduction of the fully automated transmission made even this action superfluous. From 2008 the fully-automated gearshift was developed further in the form of the Mercedes PowerShift transmissions, and perfected in subsequent years. The current Mercedes PowerShift 3 in the new Actros has different transmission modes, and can therefore be individualised to suit different operating profiles. The EcoRoll mode puts the transmission into neutral in defined situations on slight downhill gradients, and reengages the gear when appropriate.
The current masterstroke in assistance systems is Predictive Powertrain Control (PPC). This technology networks the three-dimensional GPS data of the route with the current vehicle data and powertrain. PPC predictively regulates the gearshifts according to the topography, allowing fuel savings of up to five percent.
Daimler Trucks also set the pace of progress on other continents. In 2004, for example, Fuso already presented a camera system capable of pedestrian recognition for urban distribution trucks, as well as a drowsiness warning system (MDAS-II "Mitsubishi Driver’s Attention Monitoring System"). At the Technology Days in 2005, Freightliner presented "Predictive Cruise Control" (PCC) as the North American variant of PPC.
Autonomous driving – Daimler Trucks as the vanguard
Heavy commercial vehicles are the vanguard on the road to autonomous driving. Their advantages: Many operations take place within company sites, off the public road network, others on junction-free roads such as motorways. Another advantage is the constant speed, which has an upper limit.
Presented in 1999 as a research project based on the then current Mercedes-Benz Actros, "Promote Chauffeur" was an early step on the way to autonomous driving, though not mature enough for series production. An "electronic drawbar" coupled two truck/trailer combinations. The second vehicle was provided with all the data of the lead vehicle, and steered, accelerated and braked identically. Depending on speed, the distance between them was six to 15 m.
The coupling system was electronic on the basis of early sensors, data transfer and vehicle control systems. The trucks were connected by radio, and their onboard computers communicated with each other. Two video cameras in the following vehicle kept a constant eye on a distinctive pattern of infrared lamps on the rear of the lead vehicle. Daimler researchers using a 7.5-tonne demonstration vehicle already showed in 1994 that trucks can be electronically coupled.
Autonomous driving off the public roads
Already in those years, autonomous driving was about to achieve a first breakthrough away from the public roads: in enclosed areas, semi or fully automated trucks with or without drivers became conceivable for transporting containers, bulk commodities or hazardous materials.
The idea already became a reality in 2001: Since then, two Mercedes-Benz trucks have carried out on-site transport duties in a company based in Ulm. Guided by transponders, they cover a defined stretch between the warehouse and plant at a speed of 5 km/h. Driverless trucks also perform on-site transport duties at the Daimler plant in Marienfelde. On a larger scale, these trucks are similar to the driverless transport systems familiar from e.g. automobile production. Autonomous vehicles are now also a familiar sight in container ports – though not on the public roads. This spectacular step was taken in May 2015, by the Freightliner Inspiration Truck in the USA.
On course for the future: Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025
The Future Truck 2025 with the Highway Pilot system was the answer to the challenges of the future. Increasing traffic, inadequate infrastructure, growing cost pressure and shortage of drivers.
Based on the current Mercedes-Benz Actros and its numerous, improved assistance and telematic systems, it ushered in a new era for road goods transport.
Freightliner Inspiration Truck: Autonomous on public roads
Only one year later, the Freightliner Inspiration Truck continued to write history. Its technology is based on the Future Truck 2025, but is adapted to suit North American operating conditions. The Freightliner Inspiration Truck was the world's first autonomously driving truck to have operating approval for the public roads of Nevada. The Inspiration Truck is based on the Freightliner Cascadia series production model.
Mercedes-Benz Actros with the Highway Pilot: Autonomous series production truck
Shortly afterwards, Daimler Trucks opened up a new chapter in Europe: in autumn 2015 a standard Mercedes-Benz Actros with the Highway Pilot was given approval for public roads as a test vehicle. It is permitted to drive on all German autobahns in semi-automated mode. This means that the vehicle drives autonomously, but the driver must constantly monitor the system and be able to take over control at any time. The Highway Pilot recognises systemic limits and prompts the driver to take over, giving him adequate prior warning.
While the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 is a concept vehicle, the transition to series production technology has proved successful in the form of the Mercedes-Benz Actros with the Highway Pilot. It demonstrates the everyday suitability of autonomous driving. With its extension Highway Pilot Connect, it is a further step in the rapid progress towards the transport system of tomorrow.