Daimler and Waymo partner on self-driving trucks

Daimler, parent to Mercedes-Benz and one of the biggest truck manufacturers in the world, on Tuesday announced a partnership with Alphabet Inc.-owned self-driving technology startup Waymo.

The partnership will see Daimler integrate Waymo’s self-driving system, known as the Waymo Driver, into its Freightliner Cascadia Class 8 semi-trailer truck. The Waymo Driver ranks at Level 4 on the SAE scale of self-driving capability, as it can function entirely on its own but only within set conditions. Level 5 is the final goal, which would mean a self-driving system as capable as a human.

Daimler said it plans to make the Waymo Driver-equipped Cascadia available to customers in the United States in the coming years. Daimler and Waymo are also exploring the potential to offer it in other markets in the near future.

Daimler Trucks and Waymo logos

Daimler Trucks and Waymo logos

Daimler for years has been developing its own self-driving system, both for passenger and commercial vehicles. The German auto giant has already conducted trials of self-driving trucks and in 2019 acquired Blacksburg, Virginia-based Torc Robotics which is also developing a self-driving system for commercial vehicles.

Martin Daum, head of Daimler’s bus and truck division, said the partnership with Waymo is to help accelerate the arrival of self-driving trucks and that Daimler will continue to develop its own technology separately. In other words, Daimler is hedging its bets.

“This (Waymo) partnership complements Daimler Trucks’ dual-strategy approach, of working with two strong partners to deliver autonomous L4 solutions that are seamlessly integrated with our best-in class trucks, to our customers,” he said.

Martin Daum

Martin Daum

The Cascadia already has some semi-autonomous driver-assist features. These features, grouped under the heading Detroit Assurance 5.0 with Active Lane Assist, are able to independently brake, steer, and accelerate at all speed ranges, though the driver has to monitor the vehicle at all times.

In the near future, Level 4 self-driving systems will allow the trucks to operate around the clock, including at night during low-traffic times. Truck drivers will still be needed. Self-driving trucks will be enabled by radar, cameras, and lidar, just like cars, but their demands will be greater. Their mass will need to be taken into account, as will the articulation of their trailers, and their different driving characteristics. This means their self-driving capability will likely be limited to simpler highway driving situations for years or even decades to come.

Daimler isn’t the only company researching self-driving trucks. Volvo Trucks has already shown off its Vera autonomous semi concept and Ford has also debuted an autonomous semi concept that showcased its long-term vision for the vehicle type. Volkswagen Group’s Traton truck division is also working with self-driving technology startup Argo AI on self-driving trucks.

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