DAIMLER has unveiled its next-generation Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 prototype in a world premiere, claiming it to be a revolution on the roads with new exterior and interior design, radar sensors and even autonomous driving.
The study into the trucks of the future was launched at the IAA 2014 international commercial vehicles show held from September 25 to October 2 in Hanover, Germany.
“In 10 years’ time, trucks could be driving autonomously on motorways. Transport efficiency will increase, traffic will be safer for all road users, and fuel consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will be further reduced. To do this, Mercedes-Benz connects existing assistance systems with enhanced sensors to the ‘Highway Pilot’ system,” says a spokesman for Daimler, adding that autonomous driving is already possible at realistic speeds and in realistic motorway traffic situations.
He says the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 is not a new truck, but rather the key element in the interconnected transport system of the future. It is being developed as part of the “Shaping Future Transportation” initiative by Daimler Trucks to conserve resources, reduce emissions of all kinds and enhance safety.
The prototype has demonstrated the exciting capabilities of the Future Truck 2025 at speeds of up to 80 kmph in realistic traffic situations on a section of the A14 motorway in Magdeburg, Germany.
• Exterior: In terms of design, the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 prototype combines function, efficiency and emotion in a fascinating way, symbolising the leap from classic truck to autonomous transport vehicle of the future.
The designers have leveraged the opportunity presented by future length specifications: extending the front section allows soft, aerodynamically flowing forms to be created. Visual effects from the paintwork in light silver emphasise the smooth contours. Compact cameras replace conventional exterior mirrors. Its windscreen resembles a visor.
While at a standstill with the engine switched off, the front mask is closed. Classic elements such as the headlamps seem to be missing at first glance. The Future Truck 2025 comes to life when the engine starts with LEDs (light emitting diodes) illuminating the surfaces and lighting up the paintwork.
When the fully drivable prototype is controlled manually and on the move, the lights are white. When the truck is driving autonomously, the colour of the lights changes from white to blue. They then pulsate strongly, thus symbolising the truck’s powerful heartbeat and clearly indicating the vehicle’s current operating mode to other road users.
• Interior: The interior of the Future Truck 2025 focuses on essential functions and the design is almost puristic. The workplace for driving is calm and uncluttered like a modern, paperless office. Exciting lighting effects inside the cab also underline the distinctive character of the Future Truck 2025.
The instrument panel is uncluttered, and instead of conspicuous air outlets, there is indirect climate control with a touchpad replacing conventional switch strips. When the truck is travelling autonomously, the driver may recline his seat and also turn it by 45 degrees in the space, allowing him to consciously adopt a relaxed, comfortable working position.
To communicate from the future workplace, the driver uses a tablet computer. On long routes driven autonomously, the tablet computer becomes as crucial as the steering wheel and pedals are otherwise.
• Radar sensors and camera: This technology enables the Future Truck to drive autonomously, independently of other vehicles or central control stations. For Mercedes-Benz, the culmination of this is the highly intelligent “Highway Pilot” system, which resembles the autopilot on an aircraft. Networking with other trucks or passenger cars extends its abilities further, but is not necessary for autonomous driving.
A radar sensor in the lower area of the front end scans the road ahead at long and short range. The front radar sensor has a range of 250 m and scans an 18-degree segment. The short-range sensor has a range of 70 m and scans a 130-degree segment. The radar sensor is the basis for the proximity control and emergency braking safety systems already available today.
A stereo camera installed above the instrument support behind the windscreen keeps the area ahead of the vehicle in view. This is currently the location of a mono-camera if the optional ‘Lane Keeping Assist’ is ordered. The range of the stereo camera is 100 m, and it scans an area of 45 degrees horizontally and 27 degrees vertically.
The stereo camera of the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 identifies single- or two-lane roads, pedestrians, moving and stationary objects, all objects within the monitored area and also the road surface. The camera recognises everything that contrasts with the background, and is therefore also able to measure clearances precisely. The front stereo camera also registers the information on traffic signs.
In addition to object and distance recognition, the stereo camera recognises lane markings as a major function for autonomous lane guidance.
The “Highway Pilot” is ideally partnered with V2V and V2I networking. Every vehicle equipped with this in the near future will transmit continuous information to its surroundings. This includes vehicle position and model, dimensions, direction of travel and speed, any acceleration and braking manoeuvres and the bend radii negotiated. V2I means that all these messages and signals are also sent to external recipients such as traffic control centres.
• Blind Spot Assist: These sensors form the heart of the new Blind Spot Assist system. The radar sensor modules are arranged in such a way that they cover the area parallel to the truck over the entire length of a tractor/trailer combination or drawbar combination. In addition, this strip is extended forwards to 2 m in front of the truck.
Blind Spot Assist warns the truck driver about other road users not only when turning but also warns about imminent collisions with stationary obstacles – for example signs or lamps – and serves as an assistance system when changing lane.
All sensors on board the Future Truck 2025 are networked (multi-sensor fusion), and provide a complete image of the surroundings. All moving and stationary objects in the truck’s vicinity are registered.
In many situations autonomous driving relieves the driver of “having to” drive, especially on tiring and often monotonous long-distance routes. As the truck regulates its own speed and automatically finds the best route using a navigation app, and because the transport company, dispatcher and goods recipient are constantly informed about the location, route and expected time of arrival in real time, the driver is relieved of time pressure.
With the driver gaining time for other activities, it is conceivable that he will be able to take on tasks previously performed by the scheduling team or which provide social contact. Owner-driver businesses, in particular, will be able to perform office tasks conveniently on the move, if required.
Carrying out further activities will significantly change the professional profile of the truck driver. This will, in turn, give rise to opportunities for advancement from the purely driving role to transport manager.
But although the technical preconditions are now being demonstrated for the first time with the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025, legislation also needs to be adapted to this new dimension in driving. A further development of the “1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic”, which almost all European countries have signed and implemented, is already under way.
“The current Convention does not permit automatic steering over 10 kmph, but that came about at a time when autonomous driving was still in the realms of science fiction. A committee of UN experts has recently supplemented the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, providing the basis for legalisation on autonomous driving. Corresponding systems will be permitted in the future, as long as they can be deactivated or overruled by the driver at any time. This is standard for the ‘Highway Pilot’ in the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025,” concludes the spokesman.