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This site is dedicated to the Honorable people, those who did not cross the picket lines at Northwest Airlines, commonly referred to as SCABair. Now that Delta and NWA are one carrier, Delta now picks up the moniker of SCABair, because they employ the same SCABS that NWA did.
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The World’s First Self-Driving Semi-Truck Hits the Road
By ALEX DAVIES
LICENSE PLATES ARE rarely an object of attention, but this one’s special—the funky number is the giveaway. That’s why Daimler bigwig Wolfgang Bernhard and Nevada governor Brian Sandoval are sharing a stage, mugging for the phalanx of cameras, together holding the metal rectangle that will, in just a minute, be slapped onto the world’s first officially recognized self-driving truck.
The truck in question is the Freightliner Inspiration, a teched-up version of the Daimler 18-wheeler sold around the world. And according to Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz, it will make long-haul road transportation safer, cheaper, and better for the planet.
“There’s a clear need for this generation of trucks, and we’re the pioneers who are willing to tackle it,” says Bernhard.
A Newish Kind of Semi
The Freightliner Inspiration offers a rather limited version of
autonomy: It will take control only on the highway, maintaining a safe
distance from other vehicles and staying in its lane. It won’t pass
slower vehicles on its own. If the truck encounters a situation it can’t
confidently handle, like heavy snow that covers lane lines, it will
alert the human that it’s time for him to take over, via beeps and icons
in the dashboard. If the driver doesn’t respond within about five
seconds, the truck will slow down gradually, then stop.
In hardware terms, the truck isn’t much different from the latest trucks and passenger cars Daimler is putting on the road. A stereoscopic camera reads lane lines. Short and long range radar scan the road up to 800 feet ahead for obstacles. No sensors face backward, because they’re not needed. There’s no vehicle-to-vehicle communication, no LIDaR. The software algorithms are adjusted versions of those developed for use in Mercedes-Benz’s autonomous vehicles.
The Freightliner is still very much a test vehicle. Daimler’s confident it’s safe for public roads, and the Nevada DMV agrees. But the automaker needs a few million more test miles on the books, in a wide variety of locales and conditions (snow, rain, extreme temperatures), before it’s ready to offer even this very limited autonomous capability to any customers. That’ll take a decade.
This super conservative approach is typical of the way the major automakers have approached the shift toward cars that drive themselves: step by step, never promising more than they can deliver, or more than regulators are ready to allow. It may be unimpressive compared to a Google car that cuts through city traffic, but it’s a crucial deployment of this technology.
Trucks aren’t sexy, but they’re critical to our economy, and there’s gobs of room for improvement in their safety record and efficiency. Autonomous driving—even in a limited form—can deliver it.
In 2012 in the US, 330,000 large trucks were involved in crashes that
killed nearly 4,000 people, most of them in passenger cars. About 90
percent of those were caused by driver error. “Anything that can get
commercial vehicles out of trouble has a lot of value,” says Xavier
Mosquet, head of Boston Consulting Group’s North America automotive
So it’s no surprise some of the country’s largest freight carriers have in recent years started equipping their vehicles with active safety features like lane control and automatic braking. The economic case for these measures—the predecessors to fuller autonomy—is clear, says Noël Perry, an economist who specializes in transportation and logistics.
There’s no reason these companies won’t want to go for more. “They all love this.”
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Bumper Stickers for Seniors
"Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your
character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others
think you are."
- John Wooden