Portland manufacturing company Daimler Trucks North America has spearheaded the development of the self-driving semi truck. But chief engineers Steve Nadig and Al Pearson don't predict a world without truckers.
Rather, the automation they are pursuing would allow the vehicle to increase safety and efficiency for the driver when a semi hits the road.
From the TechFest NW stage, Nadig explained that the vehicle and the driver will be able to pass off control in various ways—beginning with cruise control settings and mapping technologies and extending to braking and steering systems that are monitored and operated entirely by the computerized truck.
The vehicles are able to decrease the workload and stress level of drivers to what Nadig describes as an optimum level of being both aware and alert.
Daimler ensured that these semi trucks could also link their systems together, allowing them to drive in close proximity to each other while communicating to predict braking or terrain changes. This increases the aerodynamic efficiency and speed of the fleet of vehicles as they travel.
"We don't invent technology for technology's sake—we invent it for our customers," Nadig said.
According to Pearson, the product design and pitching process began in 2014 with various sketches and clay models. But when the cosmetic parts of the vehicle began to develop along with the individual features, Damlier began to manufacture the full, self-driving vehicles.
"We had to adopt the technology we were trying to demonstrate, and actually create these autonomous trucks," Pearson said.
Unique features of the truck include side mirrors supplemented with multiple cameras, which function together to illuminate blind spots and display a full view of the road.
The trucks were driven on private tracks until they were licensed for operation on the highways of Nevada.
The first licensed driver of an autonomous vehicle is from their team, Nadig and Pearson proudly pointed out.
"I don't know how much skill that takes," Nadig said, "but he was the first."