Daimler Trucks North America have created the first road legal self-driving semi truck, and they did it in Portland.
That's right: a truck that drives itself. Last year, Daimler's Freightliner Inspiration was granted a license for open road driving in Nevada, making it the first large autonomous truck of its kind that can legally drive on highways in the world. The Inspiration uses radar sensors, cameras and servomotors to detect other vehicles, road markings and objects and respond to them without the need of a driver to steer, brake or accelerate.
The technology powering the Inspiration is more than just Transformers come to life—it could revolutionize the American economy.
According to Daimler, trucks transported 70% of all freight in the US in 2012, and 90% of crashes caused by driver distraction or drowsiness can be prevented by autonomous technology. In short, the implications of this technology could save thousands of lives and millions of dollars.
Daimler engineers Steve Nadig and Al Pearson were both intimately involved with developing the Inspiration.
They're going to be bringing their insights into this groundbreaking technology to the TechFestNW 2016 main stage with their talk: 40 Tons, Zero Drivers. How Daimler Built The First Road-Ready Self-Driving Semi Truck.
Steve Nadig was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about Mechatronics, his work on the Inspiration, and the future of autonomous trucks:
TFNW: What does Mechatronics mean, and how that meaning changed since you have started working with DTNA?
Steve Nadig: When I started at DTNA, our group was called Electrical/Electronic Engineering. Mechatronics is newly defined field and we've been doing it for years. It is the combination of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering.
What has been the biggest breakthrough you have overseen or been a part of while working at DTNA?
SN: Other than the Inspiration truck, solid state power distribution and networking vehicle computers. When I started at DTNA we only had a couple of computers on the truck that talked to each other. Now we have multiple computers: engine, transmission, instrument panel, switches, body controllers, radar, ABS, gateways and telematics, to name a few. It is growing at a tremendous rate.
What contribution did you make to building the Freightliner Inspiration?.
SN: My job was to make sure we had the right team in place and to support them with the things they needed to get the job done. We had quite a cast to get the truck built on time. In North America we had Craig Beyer, Chris Jory and Martin Kreidl, and we had an additional team in Germany working on the project. That was just the truck. The launch event had another international team organizing it.
What do you see in the future of autonomous vehicles?
SN: The first step is getting an "auto-pilot" in place for the driver. We really believe this will make life easier for the driver and increase the safety of the vehicle. The rest will happen after my career is over at Daimler.
What are the biggest challenges that face the development of autonomous vehicles?
SN: Right now, the technology is ahead of acceptance from the public acceptance and the legislative branches of government. Part of the inspiration to create the Freightliner Inspiration truck was to inspire the discussion about autonomous trucks in the public and in the government. I'm convinced that we can handle the technical issues.
Join Steve Nadig, Al Pearson and our other excellent speakers at TechFestNW 2016: April 25-26 at The Armory in Portland, Oregon's Pearl District. For more information and tickets to TFNW, visit techfestnw.com.