Daimler Trucks North America, headquartered in Portland, recently added 200 jobs to its Automated Truck Research and Development Center here in Rip City. Daimler announced the job growth while unveiling its new Freightliner Cascadia automated truck at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Automated vehicles are rated on a five-point scale. Level 1 is adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping, a feature now common on newer model passenger cars. The Cascadia is Level 2 which can also steer laterally, accelerate, decelerate and brake on its own. Watch a video of the truck in action here.
Level 3 adds additional automation; a Level 4 autonomous vehicle can complete a trip with no driver intervention (but with a driver on board for safety) on roads well-suited for automated vehicles. Level 5 is the true driverless vehicle that can go anywhere. The Daimler truck division is shooting for Level 4 within a decade. Other automated truck promoters at CES were more optimistic; a Chinese/California startup called TuSimple thinks Level 4 trucks can be used on certain roads within a year or two.
While some may cringe at the thought of a driverless vehicle, many studies show that automated vehicles will dramatically increase road safety. For example, Daimler's studies show that trucks that have forward collision mitigation systems (essentially, a crash warning system) experience 60-80% less rear end crashes. Other studies have shown that automated vehicles will decrease traffic fatalities by 90% or more, which would save about $190 billion.
Automated trucks have other benefits as well. Automated trucks are easier on fuel and can run at all hours without worrying about a sleepy driver, cutting costs and improving delivery times. More operations at night means less traffic jams, further saving fuel and time and relieving daytime traffic. Industry observers estimate that a Level 4 automated truck will have 20% less CO2 emissions than its human-driven counterpart. Critics cite a loss of driver jobs, but there is currently a massive truck driver labor shortage in the US, and true autonomous trucks with no back-up human driver are a long way off anyways.
This author has promoted the benefits of autonomous vehicles before, and personally I can't wait to get into an autonomous car and do something else besides drive while I get from place to place. I'm particularly glad to see Daimler take a leadership role in this area, and to give Portland a prominent place in the development of the vehicles of the future.